PM announces 25% increase in defence spending 'in longer term'

ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston assesses the significance of Rishi Sunak's vow to boost defence spending

The prime minister has today committed to increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income or GDP "in the longer term," a 25% increase on recent spending, but is refusing to commit to the 3% target set by Liz Truss.

Speaking to reporters on a flight to the US, ahead of tomorrow's "refresh" of the UK's security and defence policies - known as the Integrated Review - he confirmed there would be £5bn of additional defence spending over the coming two years, much of which would "replenish and bolster vital ammunition stocks" that have been depleted by the war in Ukraine. 

The biggest increase, £2.97bn, will be allocated to "defence nuclear enterprise." which includes "the construction of industrial infrastructure, growing nuclear skills programmes and enhancing support to in-service submarines."

There will also be a cost to fulfilling the commitment made under the AUKUS Pact - a security agreement between Australia, the UK and the US - for the US and UK to supply nuclear powered submarines to Australia.

The prime minister is tonight in San Diego in California attending the first AUKUS summit since the treaty was agreed 18 months ago. He will meet with the US President Joe Biden and the Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese.

Australian PM Anthony Albanese (L) will meet PM Rishi Sunak (R) and US President Joe Biden on Sunday Credit: PA

Their plan is to announce the contract between Australia on the one hand and the US and UK for the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to Australia and for the construction of the submarines. A significant proportion of the work is expected to be carried out in the UK. 

The £5bn of new money for defence will be formally announced tomorrow [Monday] by the foreign secretary James Cleverly when he launches the Integrated Review Refresh in the Commons. The prime minister said this would lift defence expenditure to 2.25% of GDP by 2025.

Sunak added:  that "gives a sense of the timeframes we're talking about" to achieve the higher 2.5% goal.

As part of the Integrated Review, the foreign secretary will also unveil:

  • A new service from Mi5, called the National Protective Security Authority, that will provide "expert" security advice to UK businesses;

  • Additional funding of £20m for the BBC's World Service, so that it can provide news to "countries targeted by hostile states for disinformation";

  • A strengthening of national security capabilities across government through the roll out of a "College for National Security curriculum";

  • And a doubling in funding for a "government-wide China Capabilities" programme. 

US President Joe Biden. Credit: AP

Sunak said the Integrated Review would recognise the significant challenge posed by China but that it was wrong to simply describe the world's most populous and second richest nation as a threat.

He added that China's authoritarianism at home and assertiveness abroad was "a defining challenge to us and to the global order". 

The prime minister also disclosed that he would be inviting the US president to come to Northern Ireland in April to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the landmark Good Friday Agreement, that brought peace to the island of Ireland.

"Hopefully he'll be able to make it," Mr Sunak said. 

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