Rishi Sunak has pledged to “fortify” Britain against growing threats from Russia and China as he unveiled a £5bn boost to military spending in an update to UK defence and foreign policy.
The extra funding, spread over two years, will be used to replenish ammunition stocks depleted by the war in Ukraine and to modernise the UK’s nuclear submarine programme.
The prime minister said on Sunday he would also set out an “ambition” to increase British defence spending to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product, from 2 per cent now, as part of a broader push to boost Nato funding. Any increase would not take effect until after a review of UK defence spending in 2025.
The government’s updated “integrated review”, which outlines UK defence and foreign policy, will be presented by foreign secretary James Cleverly to parliament on Monday.
It comes as Sunak travels to San Diego to discuss the next stage of the so-called the Aukus defence pact involving the US, the UK and Australia, which seeks to counter China’s growing military might.
Sunak will meet US president Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese to unveil further details of the pact, which aims to provide Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines to deal with China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific.
“As the world becomes more volatile . . . the UK must be ready to stand our ground,” said Sunak. “The UK will remain a leading contributor to Nato and a reliable international partner, standing up for our values from Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
The updated integrated review was ordered by former prime minister Liz Truss during her short tenure as prime minister last autumn, because the first version was published before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The extra £5bn for the Ministry of Defence falls short of what defence secretary Ben Wallace had sought to compensate for high inflation, which has eroded the purchasing power of the £54bn annual military budget.
However, it follows a £24bn increase in defence spending spread over four years and finalised in 2020. Sunak said the extra £5bn would take British defence spending to 2.25 per cent of GDP by 2025.
The Ministry of Defence said Wallace was “delighted” with the settlement.
Of the £5bn, £3bn will be invested in nuclear defence and to deliver Aukus’s multibillion-dollar investment programme, which is expected to culminate in the development of a next-generation nuclear-powered submarine based on a British design.
Of the remainder, £1.9bn will be used to bolster munitions stockpiles depleted by the war in Ukraine and to “invest in the resilience of the UK’s munitions” industry.
The war in Ukraine has revealed the skimpiness of weapons stockpiles across all of Kyiv’s western allies.
“Many of our weapon stockpiles needed to be replenished even before the war in Ukraine,” said Ed Arnold, research fellow at the Royal United Services, a London-based think-tank. “They need to go up a lot.”
In response to what Sunak said was an “epoch-defining challenge” posed by China, the UK is launching various initiatives, including greater investment in Mandarin language training for civil servants, more focus on ensuring British access to rare minerals, and an extra £20mn of funding for the BBC World Service.
Britain is also set to ban TikTok, the Chinese social media app, from UK government devices, following the lead of the US and EU institutions, according to Whitehall insiders.
A government spokesman said there were “robust processes in place to ensure government IT devices are secure”.
TikTok said it awaited details of any specific concerns the UK government had but would be “disappointed” by a ban. It added “similar decisions elsewhere have been based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics”.
Sunak described China as the “biggest state-based threat to our economic security”.
But Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and leading China hawk, described the updated integrated review as a “wasted opportunity to call out China”.
Sunak said discussions on lifting UK defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP would begin at a meeting of Nato allies this summer in Lithuania.
He added the discussions were part of a push for Nato member countries to regard the alliance’s current target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence as a “floor” rather than a “ceiling”.
Successive prime ministers have said they want to increase defence spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Truss, who pledged to increase it to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030.
Additional reporting by Cristina Criddle