UK's Starmer commits to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP

Cabinet meeting with British PM Keir Starmer at Downing Street

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Keir Starmer on Tuesday said he would fulfil a campaign commitment to increase UK defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, but underlined he would only do so when the country could afford it and after a review of defence strategy.

"I am committed to that 2.5% within our fiscal rules, but that strategic review needs to come first," Starmer said as he departed for a NATO summit in Washington.

Starmer, whose Labour Party won a landslide election victory last week, made fiscal prudence a keystone of his campaign.

In 2014, members of the transatlantic alliance agreed to commit 2% of GDP to defence spending to ensure NATO's military readiness. This year, 23 of the 32 member countries will hit that target, but in the face of a growing threat from Russia, more countries have called for an increase to 2.5% or more.

An analysis of UK defence spending published in April by the previous Conservative government showed NATO-qualifying defence spending was expected to be 2.32% of GDP in the 2024-2025 financial year.

Starmer said Labour was planning to conduct a review of Britain's defence challenges and capabilities.

On his first international trip as prime minister, Starmer is expected to try to raise Britain’s profile on the international stage, hoping to capitalise on his large majority in parliament as a sign his government is a stable partner.

He said the summit would be a chance to display unity after a missile strike on a children's hospital in Kyiv.

"My message is very, very clear: That this NATO summit is an opportunity for allies to stand together to strengthen their resolve, particularly in light of that appalling attack, against Russian aggression," he said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, writing by William James and Sharon Singleton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)