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Ministers urge government to increase defence spending in highly unusual intervention | Politics News

Two serving ministers have broken cover to urge Rishi Sunak’s government to “lead the way” and increase defence spending to at least 2.5% of GDP – from just over 2% at present – “as soon as economic conditions allow”.

In a highly unusual intervention, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a foreign office minister and former defence minister, and Tom Tugendhat, the security minister and an experienced soldier, published an article online that does not appear to have been sanctioned by Downing Street.

“It’s clear to us that the UK needs to lead the way in increasing our own domestic defence and security spending commitments to 2.5% and beyond,” they wrote in a piece posted on Ms Trevelyan’s LinkedIn page on Friday evening.

“Former defence secretary Ben Wallace and prime minister Boris Johnson made inroads into growing our defence budgets, which had been shrinking in real terms for years. But that only filled the hole. Now we need growth.”

The alarm call by two serving ministers with deep expertise in defence and security comes amid growing disquiet among Conservative MPs and military insiders at a failure by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to announce new funding for the armed forces in his spring budget, even though the defence secretary has warned the UK is in a “pre-war world”.

Instead, Mr Hunt just reiterated a vague pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income – from just over 2% at present – “as soon as economic conditions allow”.

Underlining their focus, Ms Trevelyan and Mr Tugendhat urged the government to strengthen the UK’s nuclear deterrent, regrow the Royal Navy, invest in more weapons and ammunition and accelerate plans to build a new generation of fighter jets for the air force.

They also stressed the need to invest in the UK’s defence industrial base.

“None of this is wasted cash. It’s investment in our own economy. And it protects our future economic security,” the ministers said.

“The sad truth is that the world is no longer benign. Protecting ourselves requires investment. And effective investment means that our industrial complex must grow and strengthen at much greater pace than at present.

“We cannot turn on the complex platforms and weapons which ensure military advantage overnight. We must start that growth now, invest at pace to support our allies and stay ahead of our adversaries.”

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British Army soldiers crawl and fight through smoke and flares as they attack and move forward supported by armour during a Combined Arms Manouevre Demonstration on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October, 21, 2015. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
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British Army soldier training on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Pic: PA

How UK defence spending compares to China and Russia

They pointed to how China has just announced a 7.2% rise in its defence budget to $230bn (£179bn) – more than twice what it was a decade ago.

Russia, they said, “is committed to spending 40% of its expenditure on defence and security this year. Vast sums by any standard to fight its illegal war in Ukraine”.

By contrast, UK defence spending has risen 28% from £43bn to £55bn over the last 10 years, they said.

The ministers did not specifically refer to this year’s budget, but military experts have expressed dismay that the level of funding set out in official tables on Wednesday appeared to track a decline of £2.5bn in defence spending in the financial year to March 2025 compared with the previous 12 months.

The Ministry of Defence said this was because the data did not include new money for the military that was pledged last autumn, as well as assistance to Ukraine.

British soldiers taking part in a NATO allied troops training exercise in North Macedonia. File pic: Reuters
Image:
British soldiers taking part in a NATO allied troops training exercise in North Macedonia. Pic: Reuters

Europe must secure borders, ministers say

Ms Trevelyan, who is charged with the Indo-Pacific region in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, underlined the importance of Europe stepping up to secure its borders as the United States increasingly focuses on the challenge posed by China.

Mr Tugendhat underlined the threats he sees at home “funded by illicit drug money, weapons trafficking and the abuses of modern slavery and people trafficking”.

He warned: “Those who wish our country, and our way of life, harm are more active than ever.”

Teesworks: Government blocks release of documents showing decisions behind unusual investigation into redevelopment | Politics News

The government has blocked the release of documents which would show the decision-making behind a controversial investigation into the redevelopment of Teesside.

Tory MPs voted down a measure tabled by Labour in the House of Commons, by 272 to 166.

It came after Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove announced the composition of a three-person panel which will inspect the Teesworks site.

Read more:
Labour calls for inquiry into steelworks regeneration

Tories tell Labour MP to ‘put up or shut up’ over Teesworks ‘corruption claim’
Investigation ordered by government following ‘corruption’ allegations

The row is taking place after Labour MPs called for a statutory inquiry into the project in the North East, which the government declined to authorise.

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald previously raised concerns about the Teesworks scheme, alleging “truly shocking, industrial-scale corruption”.

But instead of commissioning the National Audit Office to look at Teesworks, Mr Gove brought together “an independent assurance review” in an unusual move.

Teesworks is the project which is redeveloping the Teesside industrial site, including the former Redcar steelworks.

There has been controversy over the way the project has been run, including how a substantial chunk of the ownership of a company developing the site was transferred from the publicly run Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) into private hands.

The site of the old steelworks is being redeveloped
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The site of the old steelworks is being redeveloped

Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley, has come under scrutiny as leader of the TVCA and also chair of the company developing the site, the South Tees Development Company, which is now 90% privately held – instead of in a 50-50 split with the public.

He has been among those calling for a full inquiry and says he has nothing to hide.

The panel which will now look after the investigation consists of Angie Ridgwell, chief executive of Lancashire County Council; Quentin Baker, the director of law and governance at Hertfordshire County Council; and Richard Paver, who was the first treasurer of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

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Speaking after the vote in parliament, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Having rejected cross-party calls, including from the Conservative Mayor, for a National Audit Office investigation, ministers need to clarify that the review they have set up will have all the same powers as the NAO would have had to review the accounts and assess the decisions that have been made in relation to Teesworks.”

She accused him of launching “an investigation on his own terms, hand-picking a panel to investigate an issue where accountability has totally broken down”.

Mr Houchen said: “I look forward to the outcome, in due course, and will be making no further comment until the independent review has been completed, so to allow the independent body to carry out their work without influence or favour. My officers stand ready to provide any and all information requested by the independent review.”

Levelling up minister Lee Rowley called for MPs across the chamber to respect the government’s course of action.