National service to become mandatory for all 18 year olds if Tories win

18-year-olds would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year volunteering under Tory plans

The Home Secretary has said that 18 year olds would not be forced to go to jail if they refused to carry out "mandatory" national service under Tory plans.

Speaking to ITV News, James Cleverly said that 18 year olds won't face criminal sanctions if they refuse national service, and that the Conservatives have "some ideas" about how to make it mandatory - but he declined to disclose what they are.

It comes directly after Rishi Sunak announced that all 18-year-olds would be required to carry out a form of national service if the Conservatives win the General Election.

ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton spoke to the Home Secretary about how the Conservatives planned on enforcing the 'mandatory' national service proposals

The prime minister said Britain has “generations of young people who have not had the opportunities they deserve”.

He claimed the radical measure would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world”.

In future, 18-year-olds would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year volunteering in their community, the Tories said.

In an apparent pitch to older voters, the party said this could include helping local fire, police and NHS services as well as charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly, isolated people.

Days prior to the announcement from the PM, Conservative MP Dr Andrew Murrison answering a question posed to him on the UK Parliament website, said the government has "no current plans" to reintroduce National Service.

He added that unwilling recruits could "damage moral, recruitment and retention" and "consume professional military and naval resources."

The prime minister is seeking to draw a dividing line with Labour on global security following his pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Teenagers who choose to sign up for a placement in the forces would “learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations”, the Tories said.

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The Conservatives said they would establish a royal commission bringing in expertise from across the military and civil society to design what they described as the “bold” national service programme.

The party said it would work towards the first pilot being open for applications in September 2025, after which it would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament.

It estimates the programme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1 billion through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the mandatory national service would come into place if the Conservatives won the General Election. Credit: PA

The remaining £1.5 billion will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which is a package to support charities and community groups, the Tories said.

The prime minister said: “This is a great country but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world.

“I have a clear plan to address this and secure our future. I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country.

“This new, mandatory national service will provide life-changing opportunities for our young people, offering them the chance to learn real world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country.”

Earlier on Saturday, the PM suggested a government led by Sir Keir would be marked by uncertainty and a “more dangerous world.”

“The consequences of uncertainty are clear. No plan means a more dangerous world. You, your family and our country are all at risk if Labour win,” he said.

Sir Keir’s party branded the announcement “another desperate unfunded commitment” and pointed out that Lord David Cameron introduced a similar scheme – the National Citizen Service – when he was prime minister.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall said the Conservatives’ national service announcement was a “gimmick”, while speaking to Sky News. Nigel Farage described the plans as "a joke" and "totally impractical".

The Reform UK honorary president also insisted he still has "one more big card to play" and confirmed plans to stand as a future MP candidate at a future general election.

The SNP also set out its opposition to the plans, saying they are “completely out of touch with families and young people”, while Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie dismissed the plans as a “gimmick”.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer while in the West Midlands. Credit: PA

Lord Cameron’s announcement had no armed forces component to it, instead encouraging youngsters to take part in activities such as outdoor education-style courses as part of his “Big Society” initiative.

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon.

“Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas, and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It’s time to turn the page and rebuild Britain with Labour.”

Labour also announced some plans for the economy and voter's wallets, with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves ruling out increases to income tax or national insurance.

She made the pledge after saying both her and Sir Keir Starmer want taxes on working class people to be lower - but would not put forward "unfunded proposals". They also announced that they would revive Rishi Sunak's plan to ban young people from being able to legally smoke.

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