'Labour should beware the Tory defence spending trap,' warns Bill Rammell

Rishi Sunak, Grant Shapps and Keir Starmer

Labour should beware the Tory defence spending trap

Bill Rammell

By Bill Rammell

Published: 29/04/2024

- 16:07

Writing for GB News, the former Labour Defence Minister issued a warning to Keir Starmer

So, the Government has committed to spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence. An extra £75billion pounds.

They’ve been in power for 14 years, crashed the economy, and reduced the Army by 40,000 soldiers. Now at the fag end of their time in office they commit to the biggest increase in defence spending in generations.

But all to be delivered by the next - almost certainly - Labour Government.

Labour has already committed to getting to 2.5 per cent of GDP to be spent on defence, but crucially and responsibly “as resources allow”. Demonstrating Kier Starmer’s Labour is not Corbyn’s by upholding the importance of defence but also by not committing unfunded public spending which would crash the economy.

There is a case for increased defence spending.

I was a Labour Defence Minister when our defences were much stronger than today. When we spent 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence.

Rishi Sunak, Grant Shapps, and Jens Stoltenberg

Rishi Sunak, Grant Shapps, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg walk through the base after a press conference at the Warsaw Armoured Brigade in Warsaw, Poland


And the world is significantly more dangerous and threatening than in 2010.

Russia has launched a war in Ukraine, China has retreated into isolationism and sabre rattles with a vengeance over Tawain, North Korea has gained nuclear capability and is only ballistic missile capacity away from being able to strike the West, and Iran is dangerous and threatening and on the verge of gaining nuclear status.

So, there is a very respectable case for increasing defence spending. My problem is that I just do not see how an extra £75billion as a cast iron commitment by 2030 is in any way, shape or form realistic or credible.

And Sunak says that he’ll deliver more tax cuts as well as £75billion for defence. In terms of fiscal responsibility and the potential to again crash the economy, it's Liz Truss all over again.

\u200bUK defence spending as a percentage of GDP

UK defence spending as a percentage of GDP


£75billion is more than the whole of the annual school’s budget. Under current Government spending plans, 17 per cent cuts are earmarked for non-protected areas

Our roads are riven with potholes. Our schools are crumbling. NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high, with 18-month waits for treatment. Social care is in crisis with millions still forced to sell property to pay for it. Our prisons are exploding for lack of capacity and lack of investigative capability means cases can take 2 years to come to referral to the CPS and charging. £75billion extra for defence as a commitment now would smash these vital public services even harder.

We have the most blighted, under-resourced public realm for over 50 years.

And economic growth, the only realistic means of delivering the money to grow public spending is currently struggling to get above zero. And if you measure GDP per head (because the Tories have let immigration rip), we are still in recession.

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer could be left with the commitment


I know of no public spending transformation in the last 50 years on anything like the scale of a £75billion uplift for one Government department. It dwarfs Labour’s NHS transformation in 2004.

And there is the little question of how wisely the Ministry of Defence would spend such a massive uplift. The same MoD which wastes billions of pounds through defence procurement and presides over massive project overruns.

The Government knows this reality. So why is it willing to invest £75billion more for defence by 2030?

Because it is playing cynical electoral politics. The Tories know they won’t be in Government and won’t have to deliver this commitment. They know Labour will be saddled with it, and they can then criticise Labour for not delivering 2.5 per cent of GDP for defence or literally bankrupting all other public services to achieve 2.5 per cent.

This Tory stance is as far away from responsible Government and the national interest as you can get. It is a trap for Labour, and Labour should beware. Far better to be straight with people now about how dishonest and unachievable this defence uplift is, than allow the cries of betrayal when Labour is in Government.

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