Rishi Sunak vows to ‘strengthen’ Britain against Russian and Chinese threats
Rishi Sunak has pledged to “strengthen” Britain in the face of growing threats from Russia and China as he unveiled a £5bn increase in military spending in an update to Britain’s defense and foreign policy.
The extra funding, spread over two years, will be used to replace ammunition stocks depleted by the war in Ukraine and to modernize the UK’s nuclear submarine programme.
The Prime Minister said on Sunday that as part of a wider push to increase NATO funding, he would also set out the “ambition” of raising British defense spending to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from the current 2 percent. Any increase would only come into effect after a review of UK defense spending in 2025.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will table the government’s updated “integrated review” outlining the UK’s defense and foreign policy before Parliament on Monday.
Sunak is traveling to San Diego to discuss the next phase of the so-called Aukus defense pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which seeks to counter China’s growing military power.
Sunak will meet US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to hammer out further details of a pact to supply Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“As the world becomes more volatile. . . the UK must be ready to stand its ground,” Sunak said. “The UK remains a leading contributor to NATO and a trusted international partner, standing up for our values from Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
The updated integrated review was ordered by former prime minister Liz Truss last fall, during her brief tenure as prime minister, because the first version came out before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The extra £5 billion for the Ministry of Defense falls short of what Defense Secretary Ben Wallace wanted to compensate for high inflation, which has reduced the purchasing power of the £54 billion annual military budget.
However, it follows a £24 billion increase in defense spending spread over four years and is set to be finalized in 2020. According to Sun, the £5 billion plus would increase British defense spending to 2.25 percent of GDP by 2025.
The Ministry of Defense said Wallace was “thrilled” with the settlement.
Of the £5 billion, £3 billion will be invested in nuclear defense and Aukus’ multibillion-dollar investment program, which is expected to culminate in the development of a next-generation nuclear-powered submarine based on British plans.
Of the remaining sum, £1.9 billion will be used to bolster munitions stocks depleted by the war in Ukraine and to “invest in the resilience of the UK munitions industry”.
The war in Ukraine has revealed the scarcity of weapons stocks among all of Kiev’s Western allies.
“Many of our weapons stocks had to be replaced before the war in Ukraine,” said Ed Arnold of Royal United Services, a London-based think tank. “They have to go up a lot.”
In response to Sunak’s “era-defining challenge” posed by China, the UK is launching various initiatives, including greater investment in Mandarin language training for civil servants, a greater focus on securing British access to rare minerals and an additional £. 20 million in funding for the BBC World Service.
Britain will also ban TikTok, the Chinese social media app, from British government devices, following the lead of the US and EU institutions, according to Whitehall insiders.
A government spokesman said there were “robust processes in place to ensure the security of government IT assets”.
TikTok said it was awaiting details of the UK government’s specific concerns but would be “disappointed” by the ban. He added: “Similar decisions elsewhere were based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics”.
Sunak called China the “biggest state threat to our economic security.”
But Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and leading China hawk, described the updated integrated review as a “missed opportunity to call China out”.
Sunak said talks on raising UK defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP would begin at a meeting of NATO allies in Lithuania this summer.
He added that the discussions are part of the effort to ensure that the NATO member countries spend the alliance’s current goal of 2 percent of GDP on defense, rather than consider it a “floor” rather than a “ceiling”.
Successive prime ministers have said they want to increase defense spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Truss, who has pledged to raise it to 3 percent of GDP by 2030.
Additional reporting by Cristina Criddle