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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Aletha Adu Political correspondent

Labour aims to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP

HMS Anson departs a BAE Systems shipyard
HMS Anson, a submarine designed and built for the Royal Navy, departs a BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria in 2023. Photograph: BAE Systems/PA

Labour will aim to raise the UK’s defence spending to 2.5% of GDP “as soon as resources allow”, Keir Starmer has said.

The party leader told the i newspaper that defence was “the number one issue for any government” in a world where international threats had risen and the situation was “more volatile” than it had been for many years.

“On defence spending, obviously we want to get to 2.5% as soon as resources allow that to happen,” he said.

By committing to that level of defence spending, Labour, which is far ahead in opinion polls ahead of an election expected later this year, is matching the intentions of the Conservative government. The defence budget is currently around 2.1% of GDP.

Starmer will also promise to make the UK’s nuclear deterrent the “bedrock” of his security plan to keep Britain safe.

On Friday he will become the first Labour leader in 30 years to visit Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, where nuclear submarines are being built. He will be joined by the Australian high commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, and the shadow defence secretary, John Healey.

Starmer is expected to say a Labour government would use defence procurement to strengthen UK security and economic growth.

He is also expected to affirm Labour’s commitment to the Aukus security pact, after outlining plans to direct British defence investment to British business first.

The Labour leader will speak to workers, union members and apprentices at the Barrow shipyard, where nuclear submarines are being built.

Starmer’s rhetoric will create another dividing line between his manifesto and that of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Support for the nuclear deterrent has always been official Labour policy but Corbyn said he would never authorise its use.

Labour said it was set to campaign on its commitment to the nuclear deterrent in key communities in the nuclear supply chain, such as: Plymouth, home to the Devonport shipyard; Bristol, home of the Ministry of Defence’s Abbey Wood site; Derby, home to Rolls-Royce’s Raynesway site; and Argyll and Bute, home to HM Naval Base Clyde.

Starmer is expected to say: “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.”

Healey added: “Pride is the overwhelming feeling of defence industry workers, especially those in Barrow building our vital nuclear submarines. They are essential in securing Britain’s defences for the future.”

Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said voters were “desperately looking for hope from Labour. However, it’s increasingly clear that Starmer’s offer is just more of the same: billions of pounds wasted on nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and a belligerent foreign policy that includes support for the Aukus pact, Nato and continuing arms sales to Israel, used to kill Palestinians.

“Putting billions of pounds into the pockets of arms companies and their investors will not reinvigorate the economy in any meaningful way.”

Rishi Sunak visited BAE Systems Submarines in Barrow with the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, last month, after declaring a “critical national endeavour” to secure the nuclear industry’s future.

The defence secretary, Grant Shapps, called Starmer’s visit an “attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal”.

• This article was amended on 12 April 2024. An earlier version stated that the UK’s defence spending equated to just under 2.3%; in fact it is around 2.1%.

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