In Depth

Is the UK spending enough on defence?

Commons report says Britain must boost military capabilities to avoid losing influence with allies

The row over UK’s defence spending is growing as a new report by MPs warns that the country faces being left behind unless more money is pumped into the Armed Forces.

The Commons Defence Committee report says the UK’s defence budget needs to rise from 2% of GDP (£40bn) to 3% (£60bn) if Britain is to maintain its influence in the global sphere.

Labour’s Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary, “outflanked Theresa May on defence yesterday”, says The Times, by pledging her party’s commitment to retaining the UK’s status as a “tier one” military power.

The prime minister came under attack from some members of her own party last week when she refused to confirm that the UK would remain a “tier one” military nation - a defence term referring to the full spectrum of military capabilities, including nuclear weapons, says The Guardian.

What does the UK spend currently?

According to Nato, the UK spent 2.14% of GDP on defence in 2017, “comfortably more than the minimum target of 2% first set by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 and reiterated in last year’s Conservative election manifesto”, reports the Financial Times.

The Ministry of Defence, which spent £39.7bn on defence in total last year, has faced a series of cuts since 2010.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is demanding that an extra £20bn be spent, in line with the new report’s findings - a demand that threatens the PM’s position.

How does this spending compare with that of the UK’s neighbours?

European members of Nato have long been accused of shirking their financial commitment to the military alliance. According to Nato’s own estimates, only Romania, Poland, Greece and Estonia managed to meet the 2% of GDP target, along with the UK, in 2017.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this year that he was encouraged by the number of alliance countries that were edging closer to the symbolic 2% target.

But he also acknowledged that based on current projections, only 15 states - barely half the 29-strong alliance’s membership - would reach the milestone by 2024.

“This is substantial progress and a good start,” Stoltenberg said. “But we still have a good way to go.”

At next month’s Nato summit in Brussels, US President Donald Trump is expected to repeat his demands for European allies to spend more on defence.

Both France and Germany are expected to boost defence spending over the coming years. In February, French President Emmanuel Macron reversed a decade of defence budget cuts by approving nearly €300bn (£264bn) in spending for the military.

What does the defence committee report say?

Committee member Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend, says the UK’s Armed Forces have been “hollowed out”, leaving the Navy “very weak” and air capability “diminished”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Influence is really important because unless you can back it up with capability, you have no credibility.”

The committee has warned that British forces would struggle to operate alongside the US military without increased investment.

The BBC’s Jonathan Beale says the MPs’ report will “add fuel to what seems to be an increasingly acrimonious row between the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the Treasury and the prime minister”.

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear we will continue to exceed Nato’s 2% spending target.”

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