Rishi Sunak Pledges to Boost UK Defense Spending, Sparking Concerns Over Cuts

UK PM Sunak pledges to boost defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, raising concerns over public service cuts. Aims to lobby NATO allies to follow suit, reshaping global defense priorities.

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Ayesha Mumtaz
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Rishi Sunak Pledges to Boost UK Defense Spending, Sparking Concerns Over Cuts

Rishi Sunak Pledges to Boost UK Defense Spending, Sparking Concerns Over Cuts

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to increase the country's defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, a move that could result in more than £75 billion in additional defense spending over the next six years compared to current levels. The commitment, which will be partially funded by cutting 72,000 civil service jobs, has raised concerns among economists and opposition leaders about potential deep cuts in other areas of public spending.

Sunak defended the plan as fully funded, stating that it is a choice to prioritize defense due to the increasingly dangerous global environment. "The world is more dangerous today than at any time since the Cold War," he said. The Prime Minister also emphasized that the increase in defense spending will not come at the expense of continued investment in public services like the NHS and schools, and that taxes can still be cut.

However, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron acknowledged that 'public spending trade-offs' will be needed to meet this pledge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that unprotected areas of public spending will now face cuts of around 4% a year after 2025 to help meet the defense commitment.

Why this matters: The UK's increased defense spending commitment comes amid heightened global tensions and security threats. As a key NATO member, the UK's move could influence other allies to follow suit, potentially reshaping global defense priorities and spending patterns.

Sunak plans to lobby NATO allies to also increase their defense spending to 2.5% of GDP at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, D.C. in July 2024. The current NATO target for defense spending is 2%, which only 11 members met in 2023. The UK Government wants the benchmark to increase to 2.5%, which would add £140 billion to the NATO budget if met by all 32 members.

Critics argue that even deep cuts to the civil service, which has a total paybill of around £14 billion per year, would be unlikely to make a significant dent in the £75 billion the government plans to spend on defense over the next six years. Civil service unions have accused Sunak of 'scapegoating' his own workforce to fund the defense spending increase.

The pledge has also been criticized by the opposition Labour party as a 'broken promise', as it was previously made by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. However, Labour has also committed to a 2.5% defense spending target when finances allow. The Conservatives are expected to make defense spending a key issue in the upcoming general election.

Key Takeaways

  • UK PM Sunak pledges to raise defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.
  • Increase funded by cutting 72,000 civil service jobs, raising concerns over public spending.
  • Sunak aims to lobby NATO allies to also increase defense spending to 2.5% of GDP.
  • Critics argue civil service cuts unlikely to cover £75 billion defense spending increase.
  • Pledge criticized as 'broken promise', but Labour also committed to 2.5% target.