Cabinet minister wants PM to commit to increase, as western allies gather for crucial Nato summit
Defence secretary Ben Wallace is set to issue a call for a significant hike in government spending on the UK’s armed forces in the face of Russian aggression.
The senior cabinet minister has reportedly asked Boris Johnson to increase the country’s military spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP – an additional 20 per cent a year.
In a letter, Mr Wallace urged him to call on fellow Nato leaders to raise their own spending from the current minimum target of 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of national income, according to Talk TV.
The defence secretary is expected to issue his call for a boost in spending following Vladimir Putin’s brutual invasion of Ukraine at the Royal United Services Institute think tank on Tuesday.
His call comes as Mr Johnson prepares to join other Nato leaders in Madrid on Tuesday for a summit at which they are expected to agree the biggest overhaul of the Western alliance since the end of the Cold War.
A defence source did not deny reports of Mr Wallace’s letter to No 10, saying the defence secretary and the PM “have always said that the government will respond to any changes in threat which is why in 2020 the Ministry of Defence received a record defence settlement”.
Nato will hugely increase the number of troops placed on “high readiness” in its rapid response force from 40,000 to over 300,000, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced on Monday.
The Independent understands that the UK will boost the number of troops committed to Nato’s response force, though British units will be part of a “high alert” standby force rather than deployed immediately to eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defence select committee, called for an even higher defence spending increase to 3 per cent.
The senior Tory MP tweeted: “Increasing NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force from 40k to 300k is the right call.”
He added: “But if the UK’s to play it’s part (as Europe’s security declines) we must finally: increase defence spend to 3 per cent, reverse troop number cuts, purchase all 138 F35s, upgrade our land warfare assets”.
Mr Wallace reportedly highlighted deficiencies in the UK’s military capabilities which have been laid bare by the war in Ukraine in his letter to No 10 and subsequent conversations.
They include shortfalls of deep-strike weapons, artillery stocks and in the UK’s anti-air and anti-drone capabilities, too few pilots to fly new F35 strike jets and too few crew for ships and submarines.
Asked in May if he thought more spending on defence was justified as the cost-of-living crisis hit, Mr Wallace said an extra £24bn announced for the MoD in 2020 had been “very important” to “make sure that we modernise the Army”.
The defence secretary added: “I mean, the Army’s land fleet is woefully behind its peers”.
Mr Wallace also wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak in March warning that Britain risked missing the Nato commitment to spend 2 per cent of national income on security by 2025.
The letter highlighted the cost of arming Ukraine and rising inflation as the primary reasons Britain was facing a real-terms cut in defence spending.
The former Commander Joint Forces Command General Sir Richard Barrons said that he supported Mr Wallace’s latest demands. “I back him 100%, as will all the service chiefs and every serving officer … we have to raise our game,” he told TalkTV.
Meanwhile, the new head of the Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, will use a speech on Tuesday that Britain must be prepared to “fight and win” to prevent the spread of war in Europe.
The Chief of the General Staff will tell the RUSI conference that he had never seen such a clear threat to peace and democracy as the “brutal aggression” of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Sir Patrick will warn that British forces must “act rapidly” to boost its preparedness to ensure it is not drawn into a full-scale conflict. It comes after he wrote to all the troops under his command telling them they must prepare “to fight in Europe once again”.
Mr Johnson and other G7 leaders condemned the “appalling” Russian missile attack on a shopping centre in Ukraine feared to have left scores of civilians dead or wounded.
Two Russian missiles struck the shopping complex in the city of Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv, on Monday killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens, senior Ukrainian officials said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky told G7 leaders on Monday that he wants the war with Vladimir Putin’s forces over by the end of 2022, telling allies not to let the conflict “drag on” through the winter.
But in a sign that he was not willing to accept a peace deal that gave up swathes of Ukraine, the president said he would “only negotiate from a position of strength” as he urged allies to provide more military support.