Sunak pledges UK and Germany’s support for Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’

Rishi Sunak and Olaf Scholz know each other well and are aligned on defense budgets, ITV News' Europe Editor James Mates reports

Rishi Sunak has said the UK and Germany will provide "unwavering support" for Ukraine "for as long as it takes" as he visited Berlin to discuss a fresh defence partnership with his German counterpart Olaf Scholz.

The Prime Minister said “every country has got different things that it can bring to the table” after the German chancellor said his decision not to deliver Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv “will not change”.

Mr Scholz has refused to send the German-made missiles to Ukraine for fear of a wider escalation of the war, or even drawing Germany into direct conflict with Russia.

Rishi Sunak and Olaf Scholz have announced a "new chapter" in their countries' partnership, deepening the defence and security ties between the allies.

The joint announcement comes after the prime minister said the UK defence industry is now on a war footing and is committing to tens of billions in additional defence funding by 2030.

Mr Sunak's first visit to the German capital since entering No 10 comes after he faced pressure to visit senior politicians from one of the UK’s most powerful European allies.

The UK and Germany are closely aligned on matters including support for Ukraine and are the two biggest suppliers of military aid to the country after the US, but have so far opted to co-operate through Nato and G7 forums instead of through strengthening bilateral ties.

But Mr Sunak and Mr Scholz discussed closer co-operation on security, trade and illegal migration in one-on-one talks on Wednesday.

In a press conference in Berlin, Mr Sunak called the plan the “biggest strengthening of our national defence in a generation” and said it was “fully funded” and based on Britain having a strong economy.

He congratulated Mr Scholz for taking the “historic decision” to increase Germany’s defence spending, adding: “We stand here today together as the leading defence spenders in Europe."

He continued: “Together we have acted to meet this movement. We have taken greater responsibility for our collective security and today we are going even further, opening a new chapter in the security relationship between our two nations.”

The two leaders announced a 'new chapter' in their partnership. Credit: PA

The pair announced plans to develop remote-controlled Howitzer 155mm wheeled artillery systems to be fitted to Boxer armoured fighting vehicles.

The programme is expected to create hundreds of jobs in both nations, while equipping their troops with cutting-edge capabilities for future ground warfare.

Mr Sunak’s stop in Berlin follows his visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, where he promised to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 in the face of threats from an “axis of authoritarian states” including Russia and China.

The PM said the reduction in civil service headcount that accompanies his plan to raise defence spending to 2.5% by 2030 is a return to 2019 levels.

“Since then we’ve seen a very significant rise that isn’t sustainable or needed,” Mr Sunak said.

He said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had conducted a detailed exercise that “gives us the confidence that we can release the savings needed to fund our defence plan combined with an uplift in R&D spending which we had already budgeted for.”

But the PM also said: “We are making a choice to prioritise defence with both of those decisions and I believe that’s the right thing to do because whether we like it or not the world is more dangerous now than at any moment since the Cold War and it falls on leaders whether that’s Olaf, whether that’s me, to do what’s necessary to keep our continent safe and stand up for our values.”

Mr Sunak insisted the government’s plans to ramp up defence spending will not affect its ability to cut taxes.

Asked by broadcasters whether prioritising defence would impact other commitments, Mr Sunak insisted there was “record investment in our public services”.

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates, reporting from Berlin, sets out the prime minister's fresh defence plans

He added: “We have made a choice and I am not shying away from that choice. All governing is about prioritising. I have decided to prioritise defence because I think that is the right thing to do for our country.

“I am not going to get into writing the next manifesto here and now, but what I am confident about is that if you have a strong plan for the economy as we have and that plan is working, we stick to that plan we will be able to continue increasing defence spending.

“It is a completely funded plan. We have got a very clear idea of how to reduce civil service headcount which has grown considerably over the last few years, and we can bring that back and use that to fund what I announced yesterday.

“And alongside that, continue to invest in public services and cut people’s taxes.”

The two leaders also discussed collaboration on energy and renewables, including on the export of green hydrogen, and joint efforts to tackle organised immigration crime.

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Mr Sunak will also seek to woo German businesses in Berlin to drive further economic co-operation, with No 10 saying German firms will announce new investment into the UK worth some £8 billion.

Germany is the UK’s largest trading partner in Europe.

It is also the second-biggest provider of military aid to Ukraine after the US, and has recently promised the war-torn country another Patriot missile system to bolster its air defence.

It will also meet its Nato target to spend 2% of GDP on defence, after Mr Scholz announced a historic national rearmament following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At a press conference in Warsaw, Mr Sunak said he wanted to “pay tribute” to Mr Scholz for the shift in Germany’s policy.

The prime minister, who committed a further £500 million package of military aid to Kyiv during his trip, said: “Germany and the UK are the two largest defence spenders in Europe and are the two countries which have been at the forefront of providing support to Ukraine and I’m confident that that will continue.”

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