Sir Keir Starmer refuses to put 'arbitrary date' on 2.5% defence spending target

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to put a date on when he will increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income.

The prime minister is under pressure to match the timeframe set out by the last Conservative government, which said it would increase spending by 2030 in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the rising threats posed by China and Iran.

Speaking to Sky News's political editor Beth Rigby, Sir Keir said it was "right to say" that European nations were going to have to "put more in" to their defence budgets and that such discussions formed the "big theme" of the NATO summit in Washington DC that he attended with US President Joe Biden.

But asked repeatedly whether he would commit to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP "by the end of the parliament", the prime minister said he thought it would be "unserious... to simply pick an arbitrary date".

He said the figure was a "serious commitment" and that he wanted to "set out a roadmap to it within our fiscal rules".

"I'm not going to put a date on it because it's going to be within our fiscal rules," he continued.

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Challenged that making the commitment without giving a timeframe made it "meaningless", the prime minister replied: "What we've had for the last 14 years before the change of government was a series of arbitrary dates and lack of funding for meeting those targets, which then were missed over and over again.

"We've changed, turned our back on that way of doing politics."

Former prime minister Rishi Sunak said in April that under his government the UK would increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income by 2030 and put its arms industry on a "war footing".

During the general election campaign, the Conservatives repeatedly used Sir Keir's refusal to match the commitment to create a key dividing line between the two parties and claim that a Labour government would pose a threat to national security.

Sir Keir has said he will first carry out a strategic defence review - which could take up to a year to conclude - before settling on a timeframe for the 2.5% commitment.

But a number of military figures have also urged the new prime minister to go further.

Former colonel in British military intelligence Philip Ingram has accused Sir Keir "playing with fire" for delaying the decision on defence spending until after the review, arguing it could take "years to fix the army, our ammunition stocks, get the RAF and navy ready".

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And Lord West of Spithead, a former head of the navy who was a security minister under a previous Labour government, said the new governing party should outline a timeline during the summit to "set an example to all European countries".

Mr Sunak had argued that the world was "less safe than it has been in decades", as he also revealed a new package of weapons, ammunition and £500m in funds for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Sir Keir has also said he will stick by the former Conservative government's pledge to provide £3bn a year to Ukraine in the form of military support until 2030 to 2031 and beyond that if needed.

He also highlighted how the NATO target of 2% of defence spending had already been met.

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Mr Biden and the leaders of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Romania all promised five additional Patriot and other strategic air defence systems to protect Ukrainian cities, civilians and soldiers at the Washington summit this week marking NATO's 75th anniversary.

Other allies, including Canada, Norway, Spain, and the UK will provide other systems aimed at improving Ukraine's defences.

Despite facing questions about the state of his health, Mr Biden delivered a forceful and determined speech in which he insisted the bloc was "more powerful than ever" and pledged to stick by Ukraine.

"Putin wants nothing less, nothing less, than Ukraine's total subjugation... and to wipe Ukraine off the map," he said.

"Ukraine can and will stop Putin."