Starmer commits to spending on UK defence ahead of NATO summit

Credit: AP

Keir Starmer has said there will be a cast-iron commitment to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence, as he heads to the 75th NATO summit in Washington DC.

The new prime minister said defending the country from multiple threats was the number one priority for him.

However, he has yet to set out how he will fund the defence pledge, or when it will be delivered, saying a strategic defence review to be launched next week must come first.

“There is no more important duty for me as prime minister than keeping the people of our country safe," he added.  

“At a time when we face multiple threats at home and abroad, we must make sure we are ready to defend ourselves. That’s why I have immediately ordered a root-and-branch review that will secure Britain’s defences for the future."

The comments came as the former army chief warned that the world faced "as dangerous a moment as any time that we've had since 1945".

General Sir Patrick Sanders called on NATO members to invest more in their arms, warning that a third world war could break out within the next five years without action, because of the axis of China, Russia and Iran.

He claimed that Britain's army was depleted, telling the Times newspaper that the current size would "put hairs up on the back of your neck".

Before he boarded his plane to Washington DC, I spoke to Starmer on behalf of broadcasters, asking him first about Russia's attack on a children's hospital in Ukraine, and asking what was his message to Vladimir Putin on the eve of this summit.

"This NATO summit is an opportunity for allies to stand together, to strengthen their resolve, particularly in the light of the appalling attack against Ukraine."

I pointed out that the prime minister had stressed that people wanted action not words, so it was not enough to say that he would spend 2.5%. When would it happen?

He replied: "The most important thing at the moment is to recommit to our standing with and solidarity with Ukraine and discuss the practical plans that we can take together to stand against Russian aggression. That's the focus for the next few days.

"In relation to defence more generally, we will carry out our strategic review to look at the challenges, capabilities and on the back of that make plans. I am committed to that 2.5% within our fiscal rules but that strategic review needs to come first."

Starmer promised to commit to the 2.5% spending on defence ahead of his first appearance on the world stage as prime minister

Ahead of a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden, Starmer suggested he would urge other NATO countries to increase their ambitions.

Sources said the defence review would calculate the capabilities needed n the future and would set out a roadmap to achieving 2.5% of GDP on defence. Starmer claimed the review would place a ‘NATO-first’ policy at the heart of Britain’s defence plans.

The shape of our Armed Forces and their readiness to fight, will be part of the work, they added.

“Working with our most important partners around the world, our Strategic Defence Review will make sure the UK is sending a clear message to those who seek to undermine peace and democracy - you will not succeed," he said.

Defence Secretary John Healey said: “Britain’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable. We cannot have prosperity without security and we must never take our ability to live freely for granted. 

“The world is increasingly volatile with rapidly changing global threats. In the footsteps of Bevin, our government will help ensure we have a strong NATO in this increasingly insecure world."

Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, added: “NATO is part of Britain’s DNA. 75 years ago, Ernest Bevin helped to establish NATO.

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