Starmer and Sunak clash on security after national service announcement

National service to become mandatory for all 18 year olds if Tories win, reports Political Correspondent Harry Horton

Labour and the Tories are clashing over security after Rishi Sunak said he wants all 18 year olds to do national service.

As the General Election campaign enters its first full week, Sir Keir Starmer is telling voters that “economic security, border security, and national security” will form the “bedrock” of the party manifesto.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak will be hammering his message that the Conservatives will take “bold action” to deliver “a secure future for the next generation”.

The Tories have announced that all 18-year-olds would be made to undertake a form of “mandatory” national service if they are re-elected on July 4.

Teenagers would choose between taking a 12-month placement in the armed forces or “volunteer” work in their community one weekend a month for a year under the proposals.

Opposition critics have dismissed the plans as “unserious”, with Labour saying the pledge would never come to fruition and amounted to “another unfunded commitment”.

Sir Keir will put security at the heart of his speech on Monday as the Prime Minister seeks to draw a dividing line with Labour over the issue, following his commitment to raise defence spending to 2.5% GDP by 2030.

“The very foundation of any good government is economic security, border security, and national security,” the Labour leader is expected to say.

“This is the foundation, the bedrock that our manifesto and our first steps will be built upon.”

It comes after Labour and the Tories traded insults about the party leaders on Sunday as each accused the other of absenteeism on the doorstep.

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The Conservatives suggested Sir Keir lacked the “stamina” to campaign on Sunday, though pictures later emerged of him meeting voters in Brighton.

Meanwhile, Labour said the Prime Minister had been “holed up with his aides” and “hiding away in his mansion” after he returned to his Yorkshire constituency to meet local veterans on Saturday following a two-day tour of the UK.

Both shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves were on Sunday dispatched for Labour to broadcast studios, where they mocked the Tories’ national service announcement.

“This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick, it is not a proper plan to deliver it, it doesn’t deal with the big challenges facing young people who are desperate to get the skills and qualifications they need to get good jobs, to have a home they can call their own,” Ms Kendall told Sky News.

Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted the programme was aimed at getting teenagers “out of their bubble” because too many “don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints”.

He said that nobody would be “sent to jail” for refusing to comply with the proposed scheme after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part in community work.

The Tories have said this volunteering could include organisations such as police, fire and NHS services or charities tackling loneliness and helping elderly vulnerable people.

The announcement faced an immediate setback on Sunday after it emerged that defence minister Andrew Murrison had ruled out a restoration of “any form” of national service just three days ago.

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In a parliamentary written statement on behalf of the Government, the MP said it could damage morale if “potentially unwilling” recruits were forced to serve alongside armed forces personnel.

The pitch appears to be aimed squarely at older voters and ones who may vote Reform, a party which is targeting voters on the Conservative right.

But the Prime Minister is also seeking to draw a dividing line with Labour on security and defence following his pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Labour has said it would meet the target when economic conditions allow.

Both leaders are understood to be hitting in battleground areas across the South East on Monday as campaigning ramps up in its first full week.

Sir Ed Davey will be north of the border launching the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign with Scottish leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.