Politics

Boris Johnson’s 2030 military spending pledge ‘feeble’, say senior Tories

Boris Johnson sought to smooth over a major row with his defence secretary Ben Wallace by promising to hike defence spending to 2.5 per cent of Britain’s economic output by the end of the decade.

The prime minister wrapped up the crucial Nato summit in Madrid with a pledge which could see more than £55bn added to military budgets this decade, following Mr Wallace’s repeated pleas for more money.

However, senior Conservatives said the PM’s ambition remained “feeble” and the target too far off, given the gravity of the immediate threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Defence committee chair Tobias Ellwood MP, for 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on defence, said Mr Johnson’s end-of-decade commitment was “too little too late”, pointing to current budget cuts set to see 10,000 troops slashed from the Army.

Julian Lewis, chair of the intelligence and security committee, noted that the UK spent between 4.1 per cent and 5.5 per cent of GDP on defence during the 1980s, the last decade of the Cold War.

“Announcing at the height of a deadly confrontation in Europe in 2022 that we aim to achieve just a feeble 2.5 per cent in eight years’ time, shows an inability or unwillingness to face up to the gravity of the current crisis,” said Mr Lewis.

Defence sources said the target to hike from the current figure of 2.3 per cent of GDP would mean huge sums committed each year during the second half of the decade – since the recent spending review means nothing more will be given before 2025.

It is understood the pledge would require an extra £55.1bn cumulatively over the rest of the decade in order to hit the 2030 goal, based on official government forecasts about the size of the economy.

Mr Wallace – having launched a stringing attack on Britain’s “smoke and mirror” defence spending and “fantasy savings” this week – welcomed the 2030 announcement.

A source close to Mr Wallace said: “The defence secretary has always been clear that as the threat changes, so should the defence spending,” adding that Mr Johnson had “rightly responded to Russia’s danger”.

Labour said the current plan to cut 9,500 troops from army were “embarrassing” for the UK when the government was trying to push allies into boosing their forces.

Mr Johnson appeared to concede troops numbers would have to be boosted, telling LBC: “You’ve got to have enough troops, you got to have enough muscle power to do what you need to do.”

The UK also used the Nato summit to promise an extra £1bn of military aid for Ukraine, as he again warned against pushing president Volodymyr Zelensky into a “bad peace” deal. The PM hailed the country’s “amazing ability” to take back occupied territory.

He pointed to the Putin’s decision to withdraw troops from the hotly-contested Snake Island in the Black Sea was an indication that Russia will not be able to hold all the ground he has taken.

The prime minister also told LBC that Putin still has a way to get out of the Ukraine conflict without losing his grip on power. He claimed the tyrant had “considerable political margin of manoeuvre” to withdraw his forces and “seek a new arrangement”.

It came after the Russian president appear to suggested that the British prime minister would look “disgusting” topless. Speaking to reporters, Putin said that Western leaders abuse alcohol and don’t do enough sporting activities.

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson had jested that G7 leaders could take their clothes off and “show our pecs” – a reference to the infamous photos of Mr Putin’s bare-chested horse riding.

Despite an estimated 35 nuclear threats by Putin and his regime in recent weeks, Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s very, very important that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be side-tracked by this kind of sabre-rattling.

He added: “Because fundamentally, what Putin is trying to do is to reframe this as about Russia versus Nato. It’s not. It’s about his attack on an entirely innocent country.”

The gathering in Madrid also saw Nato take a much firmer view on China – stating that Beijing now challenges the western defence alliance’s “interests, security and values”.

Mr Johnson told reporters: “We have huge economic relationship with China … but at the same time, we’ve got to understand that there are areas where we need to compete, contest and sometimes challenge what China is up to.”

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