Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Britain told to double defence spending to earn place in the world

Jeremy Hunt boosts leadership position with bold promises on security

epa07570053 British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks during the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) CEO Council in London, Britain, 14 May 2019. Reports state that the Wall Street Journal CEO Council connects the world's most ambitious and influential business leaders to discuss the issues shaping the future. EPA/ANDY RAIN
epa07570053 British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks during the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) CEO Council in London, Britain, 14 May 2019. Reports state that the Wall Street Journal CEO Council connects the world's most ambitious and influential business leaders to discuss the issues shaping the future. EPA/ANDY RAIN

Britain's foreign secretary has said the country must be prepared to spend as much as double on defence and security as he warned that London must earn its status as a leading global power in the years ahead.

Jeremy Hunt entered the ranks of those openly jockeying to succeed Theresa May, the prime minister in series of speeches on Tuesday and Monday night.

The bold statement that spending on the military could rise to match the levels of national income committed by the United States was expressed as a priority at the annual diplomatic address to the City of London. The entrepreneur turned politician expanded on his thoughts at CEO conference on Tuesday where he said British global influence could only be maintained through a more dynamic economy, investment in defence and healing it's domestic divisions.

Mr Hunt said it was "not sustainable" to expect the US to spend four per cent of its GDP on defence while other Nato allies spent less than two per cent. He added that the European assumptions that America would go on paying one third of the bill of the continent's defence could be exposed by events.

"The UK already spends two per cent of its economic output on defence but many European countries do not - although all Nato members have agreed to do this by 2024," he said in the Mansion House address. "So for these and other reasons I believe it is time for the next Strategic Defence and Security Review to ask whether, over the coming decade, we should decisively increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence," he added.

"We simply do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years' time."

Commentators interpreted the intervention in the context of the race to succeed Mrs May, who has said that she would resign after the current push to implement the 2016 referendum on Brexit. A cabinet meeting on Tuesday agreed it was imperative to have resolution of the issue by the summer parliamentary recess due to start in July.

Mr Hunt has said strategic rivalry with Russia and China should be much higher on the political agenda. Commentators see recent controversies like that over Russia's intervention in Syria and China involvement in Western telecoms infrastructure through Huawei as historic turning points. "Like no time since the Cold War, these authoritarian regimes are using a plethora of tools and instruments to get in between the seams of “peace” and “war” to further their political and economic agendas and revise the rules-based international order," warned James Rogers of the think tank Henry Jackson Society.

The Conservative-aligned Spectator magazine said Mr Hunt's promise of a bolder defence posture when the time came to review the 2010 defence review for the next decade was designed to resonate among the party's MPs.

"Defence is also an issue that is of much interest to Tory MPs – who worry about the cuts to the military. There are few bits of spending more popular with Tory MPs than defence," it said. "It follows that any leadership pitch – and Hunt is seen as a favourite in a leadership contest – involving a defence pitch is likely to land well with the party."

The move also gained backing from the widely-read Sun newspaper, which has warmed to Mr Hunt in recent months.

"It is vital, the Foreign Secretary says, that we stand with America in defending the West’s democracies against the new, rising threats from an “aggressive” Russia and “assertive” China," it said. "That, he says, means a sharp increase in spending to avoid our US allies fearing they are propping up Nato alone. It will set an example to EU nations who underspend and take for granted their safety, underwritten by American might."

Officials working for Mrs May were forced to defend the current budget in the wake of the speeches.

"UK defence spending is the largest in Europe, we are one of only a handful of Nato countries currently spending 2% of GDP on defence," a Downing St spokesman said. "At the next defence and security review we will consider the spending level required to continue to meet the threats to our national security, as we did at the last one in 2015."

As for the Brexit progress, Mr Hunt sent mixed signals on Tuesday claiming a deal with the Labour Party in high-level talks was "not impossible" but that it was in both parties' political DNA not to trust each other.

However Mr Hunt also added both parties would be "crucified" at a general election if they failed to resolve Brexit and for that reason both it and another referendum were highly undesireable.

"I think you can never discount any of these potential outcomes. But I think a general election and a second referendum are my least likely outcomes because Brexit divides all the parties," Mr Hunt said.

"It is difficult to see how a general election, particularly changes the situation, and I also think it is very, very unpopular for MPs, for understandable reasons.

Updated: May 14, 2019 08:34 PM

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