DEFENCE – MILITARY EXPENDITURE – 16 July 2019
Dr Julian Lewis: In the four minutes available, I propose to make two points. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) on a masterly introduction to the debate. Her timing could have been better – to secure a debate so close to the arrival of a new Prime Minister is perhaps chancing her arm. Nevertheless, if we are to get the issue in the news, we need to link it to that, so I will quote the responses of the two remaining candidates in the race to be the next Prime Minister to my letter of 26 June, which asked about their Defence policies.
On 2 July, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the former Foreign Secretary, replied:
“The armed forces have done some exceptional work of late in attempting to live within an increasingly stretched budgetary environment. I can give you an absolute commitment to fund defence fully. I believe Military spending should be dictated by the threats we face – and, it is clear that these threats have multiplied in both scale and complexity in recent years. I guarantee, of course, that we will exceed the minimum 2% NATO spending target and the Defence Budget will continue to grow at a minimum of 0.5% annually.”
On 8 July, the current Foreign Secretary replied:
“In this leadership campaign, I have given more attention to defence spending than any other candidate. I have pledged to increase the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP over five years. I have argued that additional funds would need to be”—
made available, I think he means –
“for new capabilities and not simply plugging gaps in existing plans. Were I to become Prime Minister, I would consider the path of further increases in spending once the 2.5 per cent had been achieved.”
That is their position.
Mr Gregory Campbell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Lewis: I had better not, because of time pressure.
Secondly, to coincide with the debate, the Defence Committee has updated its April 2016 report, Shifting the Goalposts? Defence Expenditure and the 2% pledge, in which we set Defence spending in context. We showed that, while we spent similar amounts on Education, Defence and Health in the mid-1980s, we now spend 2.5 times more on Education than Defence, and 4 times more on Health.
Our latest report, which was published today – HC 2527, for those who are interested – has recalculated the figures for the last few years and brought them up to date. It shows that, in the last three years, we have spent 2.1% on Defence, if we calculate it from NATO’s point of view and bring in extra things such as war pensions, which never used to count towards the total. If we exclude them, the new report shows that our like-for-like Defence spending is only 1.8%. Is that credible in an age when the profile of the threats we face includes an adversarial Russia and the revival of a terrorist threat in the form of Islamist terrorism? When we compare it with the 1980s, when we regularly spent 4.5% compared with 1.8%, or 5% compared with 2.1%, we can see the shortfall.