Sir Keir Starmer commits to increase defence spending to 2.5%

The Labour leader is proposing to use procurement to strengthen UK security and economic growth by directing investment to British businesses first.

Rhiannon James
Friday 12 April 2024 12:24 BST
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer talking to workers during a campaign visit to BAE Systems (Danny Lawson/PA)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer talking to workers during a campaign visit to BAE Systems (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

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Sir Keir Starmer said the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the “bedrock” of his plan to keep Britain safe as he confirms his ambition to boost the defence budget to 2.5% of GDP.

The Labour leader is proposing to use procurement to strengthen UK security and economic growth by directing investment to British businesses first.

Sir Keir’s budget commitment matches that of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s and indicates a significant shift from the Jeremy Corbyn years.

The changed Labour Party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

The rise to 2.5% will depend on whether it fits with Labour’s fiscal rules, Sir Keir told the i newspaper.

He also promised to put in place a nuclear deterrent triple lock, if elected in the next general election.

In a “landmark” interview with the Daily Mail, Sir Keir said his party has changed, adding it is “utterly committed” to the nation’s defence and armed forces.

Sir Keir continued: “Make no mistake, this is a generational, multi-decade commitment.

“Not only is this about defending our land and our Nato allies, it’s also defending our economy – prioritising British jobs, British skills and much-needed economic growth here on our shores.

“I want to see more homegrown involvement in the nuclear submarine supply chain – and our wider defence manufacturing. With Labour, the defence industry will be hardwired into my national mission to drive economic growth across the UK.”

On Friday, Sir Keir is visiting Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in Cumbria where the party has said would build all four new Dreadnought nuclear submarines.

He is the first Labour leader to visit the shipyard in more than 30 years, and will speak to workers, union members and apprentices about increasing jobs and skills at the site and in the wider defence industry.

Shadow defence minister John Healey and Australian high commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith will also be in attendance.

Sir Keir said: “The changed Labour Party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total.

“In the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of Labour’s plan to keep Britain safe. It will ensure vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high paying jobs across the UK.

“Countless families in Barrow and across Britain have built a secure future over decades of hard work building our defences. I want that to continue for the decades to come.

“That’s why we are fully backing Aukus submarines to be built in Barrow, too. And it’s why Labour will ensure that new UK leadership within Aukus helps make this national endeavour a success for Britain.”

You can't go through the beating that we had in 2019 - the poorest election result for the Labour party since 1935 - and not listen to what the electorate told us

Shadow defence minister Luke Pollard

The new submarines being built in Barrow-in-Furness will replace the current ones in the early 2030s and carry an estimated cost of £31 billion.

The Labour Party has gone through major changes in terms of its stance on defence, with Sir Keir’s predecessor Mr Corbyn being the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Shadow defence minister Luke Pollard told Times Radio: “You can’t go through the beating that we had in 2019 – the poorest election result for the Labour party since 1935 – and not listen to what the electorate told us.”

He continued: “I know just how important defence is to communities and how much they need to have a Labour party on side.”

Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband said he “fully supports” party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s commitment to the nuclear deterrent.

He told the PA news agency: “I think that’s a really, really important duty of government, the first duty of government is to make sure our country is safe and secure.”

He added: “My position when I was leader in 2015 is exactly the position that Keir is setting out today, which is the commitment to the nuclear deterrent, the commitment to full submarines, the commitment to upgrading that deterrent.

“I think that policy has served Britain well over a number of decades and I think it will continue to serve Britain well over the coming decades and I think Keir is absolutely right to, in unequivocal terms, set out that commitment today.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps branded the shipyard visit an “attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal”.

Meanwhile, the SNP has branded the proposals “grotesque” and accused Labour of throwing billions of pounds down the drain.

This money would be better spent on a raft of other things - not least investing in the green energy gold rush

Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP

In March, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited BAE Systems Submarines in Barrow-in-Furness with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, after declaring a “critical national endeavour” to secure the nuclear industry’s future.

Mr Shapps said Labour is “not the party to be trusted with our nation’s defences”.

He added: “This is just another attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal. If Sir Keir Starmer cannot show leadership on this issue, how can he be trusted to make decision on national security.”

SNP defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes said: “Westminster has already wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on nuclear weapons and expensive nuclear energy.

“It is therefore grotesque that Sir Keir Starmer is prepared to throw billions more down the drain when his party claim there is no money to improve our NHS, help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future.

“This money would be better spent on a raft of other things – not least investing in the green energy gold rush, which would ensure Scotland, with all its renewable energy potential, could be a green energy powerhouse of the 21st century.”

Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey said both the Conservatives and Labour “only offer meaningless talk” and claimed his party is the only one committed to reversing defence cuts.

Defence union Prospect said all parties should match the 2.5% defence pledge.

General Secretary Mike Clancy said: “We have a world-leading workforce in the defence sector, which delivers jobs and growth for communities up and down the country.

“By committing that more of this money will be spent in the UK, we support both our armed forces and this vital workforce, and we hope all parties will match this pledge.”

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