Grant Shapps refuses to commit to 3% defence spending in election manifesto during South West visit

Grant Shapps

The Defence Secretary won't guarantee that the Conservatives will pledge to increase defence spending to 3% in their election manifesto.

Grant Shapps refused to make the commitment in an interview with ITV West Country on Wednesday 10 April, despite calls from senior Tories to do so.

Mr Shapps recently suggested he would support a rise to 3% of GDP, telling reporters in Poland that he wants "a bigger budget" and is "clearly in favour" of the target.

He has been under increasing pressure to go beyond the government's current pledge of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence, not least from the outgoing Wells MP and former Armed Forces Minister, James Heappey.

Mr Heappey, who stood down from his government role last month, is among a number of senior Conservative MPs urging Mr Shapps that the UK's armed forces "urgently" need a more significant budget.

Grant Shapps visited a Ministry of Defence site near Bristol Credit: ITV News

But when asked on a visit near Bristol whether he could commit to putting an increase in the Conservatives general election manifesto, Mr Shapps said: "That will be a matter for another day."

"What I can tell you, is that the government is committed to 2.5%," he added.

Mr Shapps met workers at the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence in Abbey Wood, near Bristol.

"We're at about 2.3% so we're a long way there," he said.

"I should caution that our opponents, the Labour Party, only want to spend 2%, the NATO minimum. That would mean £7 billion slashed off our defence spending every year."

The Defence Secretary was with the Conservative MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke, Jack Lopresti, on his visit to the MoD site in South Gloucestershire.

A marginal seat, it is a key Labour target for the upcoming general election.

Claire Hazelgrove, Labour's candidate, told ITV West Country that the Party's election manifesto will contain full details of its policies and costings.

However, she added, the Party can't make further commitments on defence spending until after an election.

"We believe in the Labour party that the first duty of any Government is to protect its people," Ms Hazelgrove said.

"When we were last in Government, we were incredibly proud that we were investing 2.5% of GDP in defence. What we've seen in Conservatives are real cutbacks on that.

"We don't get to see every pound or penny within the defence budget when you're in opposition - you only get that privilege in Government.

"We will want to conduct a proper strategic defence review if we are in Government to make sure we are spending British taxpayers' money as effectively as possible."

The Labour Party also stresses it was spending 2.5% of GDP on defence when it left office in 2010.