Low defence budget leaves Britain at mercy of Russia and China, MPs warn

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, and his team, prepare to leave 11 Downing Street to deliver his Spring Budget - Simon Dawson/10 Downing Street
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, and his team, prepare to leave 11 Downing Street to deliver his Spring Budget - Simon Dawson/10 Downing Street

A £6bn increase in the defence budget will not be enough to keep Britain safe, senior Tory MPs have warned.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, revealed in Wednesday’s Spring Budget that he would be adding £2bn each year for defence for the remainder of the forecast period.

The Budget document said the uplift in defence spending was “in recognition of the deteriorating security environment where the UK must be able to deter and defend against increasing threats to our security”.

Wednesday’s announcement was on top of £5bn the Prime Minister pledged for defence in Monday’s Integrated Review Refresh.

That money included more than £3bn for nuclear defence, including delivering submarines for Australia under the Aukus pact, while £1.9bn will be used to replenish munitions stockpiles depleted by donations to Ukraine.

However, defence sources were unable to say how the extra money awarded would be spent in the coming years.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt said: “I confirm that we will add a total of £11bn to our defence budget over the next five years and it will be nearly 2.25 per cent of GDP by 2025.”

He added: "We were the first large European country to commit to 2 per cent of GDP for defence and will raise that to 2.5 per cent as soon as fiscal and economic circumstances allow."

The Budget document reiterated that it was “the Government’s aspiration over the longer term is to invest 2.5 per cent of GDP in defence, as the fiscal and economic circumstances allow”.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, urged the Government to improve its defence posture based on threats, rather than “subject to improved economic outlook”.

He said: “Break these figures down, get away from the smoke and mirrors and you have £1 billion a year for our conventional forces and that is not enough.

“Specifically for the army, which is really feeling the pinch. The mood in army circles is glum.”

No review to reverse cuts

Mr Ellwood said it was frustrating that the original 2021 Integrated Review, which cut 10,000 troops and reduced the number of tanks from 227 to 148, was refreshed in the aftermath of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He said that despite the subsequent return of massed land warfare, there has been no review to reverse the cuts.

Mr Ellwood said: “As the new IR confirms, the global threat picture is deteriorating at pace and as Ukraine illustrates, will further impact on our globally exposed economy. This thinking is back to front.

“Essentially our Armed Forces will not change despite a very volatile and deteriorating threat picture.”

Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), said: “It’s a bit of good news for defence that there won’t be a cliff edge fall in defence spending in first post-election year.”

He said it would be “mainly good news for defence planners and efficiency of how we run the defence budget”.

However, Mr Chalmers said the extra money for the three later years would not be enough to increase the proportion of GDP “significantly”.

He said: “What it will do is stabilise the defence budget at the increased level provided in the Integrated Review."

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, said: “All extra funding to defence is welcome. I’m pleased to see those figures and the commitment to 2.5 per cent when the economy can afford it.”

'Investment in our insurance'

Meanwhile, Bob Seely, a senior Tory MP, added it was important the Government had recognised “an investment in our insurance”.

“Defending ourselves in a dangerous era is not a waste of money,” he said. “The best way to avoid fighting wars is to make sure we have the powers to deter people. We have to be serious about our defence. We didn’t deter Russia in Ukraine and we will be learning a massive lesson from that. It’s better than nothing. You can’t just splurge money otherwise you end up wasting it.”

As part of the Budget, Mr Hunt also set out £33m funding for Britain's military veterans over the next three years, going towards extra housing and specialist care for physical injuries.

He said the Government would provide the package to increase the capacity of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, noting this would "support veterans with injuries returning from their service and increase the availability of veteran housing".