Prime minister signals he is resisting 20 per cent hike in military spending as head of Army warns West must be ‘prepared to fight’
Defence secretary Ben Wallace is understood to have asked the prime minister for an increase in the defence budget from around 2 to 2.5 per cent of GDP – the equivalent of an additional 20 per cent per year.
The call came as the head of the British Army warned that Britain and its Nato allies are facing a “1937 moment” and must be “unequivocally prepared to fight” if Russia attacks any of their territory.
In a speech in London, chief of general staff General Sir Patrick Sanders said that Russia was likely to emerge from the Ukraine war as an even greater threat to European security and the West must be ready to “meet strength with strength”.
But asked whether the UK was preparing for war with Russia, Mr Johnson replied: “I don’t think it will come to that. We’re working very hard to make sure that we confine this to Ukraine.”
On defence spending, Mr Johnson said that the UK must “respond to the way that threats continue to change”.
But he declined to voice backing for additional spending, pointing instead to the significant extra sums already committed to the military for the coming years.
“We’ve now got a defence budget that’s £24bn bigger under the spending review – the biggest increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War,” said the prime minister. “Last year, the UK was a third biggest defence spender in the world. We’re making massive commitments.”
Mr Johnson said the UK had “more than met our pledge” to exceed the Nato target of 2 per cent of GDP for defence, and had been instrumental in encouraging other member states to increase spending.
Speaking in Germany on the final day of a G7 summit which has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, Mr Johnson said that Russia’s missile attack on a shopping centre in the city Kremenchuk was an act of “utter barbarism”, which had helped persuade wavering Western states to unite in their robust support for the Ukrainians.
“I think people are just shocked by what Putin is capable of doing,” he said. “If anything, it helped those of us who are making the case for helping to protect the Ukrainians to get that message across to some of those people who are more ‘swing voters’ in the argument.
“They can see that this is utter barbarism. And I think one of the things we’ve seen in this G7 today is a really, really powerful sense of unity, of resolve and purpose and absolute determination to keep giving the Ukrainians the help, the support, the wherewithal to keep going.”
Mr Johnson, who was today flying to Madrid to join a summit of Nato leaders, denied that the war in Ukraine was in reality a conflict between Russia and the Western military alliance.
“Putin and the Kremlin are going to try to widen the conflict and say that this is something to do between Nato and Russia – that is not it at all,” he said.
“This is about an invasion of an independent sovereign country. It is about the West and the friends of Ukraine giving them the support they need to protect themselves.”