Foreign secretary calls for ‘decisive’ increase in UK defence spending after Brexit
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Britain must ‘decisively increase’ the proportion of national income it spends on defence once it has left the European Union (EU), foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Addressing the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet at Mansion House (the official residence of the Mayor), Hunt said the additional funding should be for new capabilities, such as cyber and artificial intelligence, rather than “plugging gaps” in existing plans.
At the meeting the foreign secretary also praised the “military might of our great ally” the United States under Donald Trump, urging that Britain must do the same.
Hunt also warned that it was “not sustainable” to expect the US to spend 4 per cent of its GDP on defence whilst other Nato allies only spent between 1 and 2 per cent.
The UK spends 2 per cent (£36bn) of its economic output on defence: many European countries do not, although all Nato members have pledged to do so by 2024.
“For these and other reasons I believe it is time for the next strategic defence and security review to ask whether, over the coming decade, we should decisively increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence,” Hunt said.
“The outcome of such investment should demonstrate beyond doubt that when we say Britain stands for the defence of democratic values, when we promise never to leave our great ally, the United States, to perform this task alone, then we are as good as our word and in doing so we encourage other democracies who share our values to follow suit.”
Hunt also argued that a failure to leave the EU cleanly and properly would represent a failure by the British establishment to meet the test set when people voted to leave the EU in 2016.
He cautioned that to fail would be to “betray the promise of a democracy” and to betray British values internationally. He also questioned how Britain could “defend democracy on the international stage if a large part of our population believes we are ignoring it at home”.
He acknowledged how the UK currently accounts for almost 20 per cent of total EU defence spending and British forces contributed a “hugely disproportionate share” of some key capabilities such as heavy lift transport aircraft.
However, he added that the UK has entered a “multipolar world” without the “assurance provided by unquestioned American dominance”.
“We face a more aggressive Russia and a more assertive China,” Hunt said, echoing sacked defence secretary Gavin Williamson’s controversial warnings about China. “We simply do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years’ time.”
His speech comes after he was announced as being among those expected to stand to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May as the leader of the Conservative Party when she steps down.
In March 2019, Hunt warned that hostile states are attacking the democratic process of Western countries to “subvert democracy at long range and minimal cost”.