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Is Defence Spending Finally Becoming an Electoral Issue?

Will defence spending shape the next general election?

Since the Spring Budget announced earlier this month a real-terms cut in defence spending, the last three weeks have seen multiple public pleas by serving ministers, former ministers, and the Labour front benches, all calling for the Government to rethink its defence sums.  

Most recently, last Thursday morning the Rt Hon Mark Francois MP called on the Government not to cut the defence budget, after a real terms cut of £2.5 billion was announced during the Spring Budget.

The general debate on defence spending:

During a General Debate on the Reports of the Defence Committee and the Public Accounts on Armed Forces Readiness and Defence Equipment, the former Defence Minister and MP for Rayleigh and Wickford gave an impassioned plea to the Government to once and for all learn the lessons of the 1930s, by investing now in a credible military deterrence, in order to avoid a possible military confrontation with the world’s authoritarian regimes.

During the General Debate – which saw no less than five former defence ministers give speeches urging the government to invest more in defence, Mark Francois paid tribute to his late father, Reginald Francois, who served on a minesweeper named HMS Bressay on D-Day, and said the following:

We now have a Ministry of Defence which has become, in recent years, a gigantic, sclerotic bureaucracy; constantly hidebound by needless, self-generated red tape; obsessed with process rather than outcomes; in which some senior civil servants are now more interested in wokery than weaponry, endlessly ripped off by some of its own major contractors- such as Boeing- to name but one; and in which key elements of our fighting equipment are so old – and the procurement system for replacing them so broken – we now cannot fight a major war with Russia for more than a few weeks.”

Rt. Hon Mark Francois, MP.

Thursday’s General Debate in the House of Commons comes on the back of last week’s Urgent Question put forward by Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, the Rt Hon John Healey MP, who last Monday asked about the state of the Armed Forces.

This was followed by a crescendo of Conservative MPs, including several former defence ministers, all calling for the government to reverse its increasingly unpopular decision to cut defence spending weeks after the Defence Secretary, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, described the global order Britain is now facing as a ‘pre-war era’.

Immediately after the Spring Budget, announced earlier this month, long-serving Ministers the Rt Hon Tom Tugendhat MP, and the Rt Hon Anne Marie-Trevelyan MP, jointly inked an article declaring that defence spending must be raised “as soon as possible.”

This was widely perceived as a highly unusual intervention from two serving ministers, joining the rising Labour chorus for more defence spending – raising speculation that for once, defence is becoming an electoral issue as the nation begins to swing in to campaigning season for the upcoming general election.

Final thoughts:

The impassioned pleas for increased defence spending in the face of real-terms cuts carry significant implications for national security and geopolitical strategy.

In an era marked by evolving security threats and geopolitical tensions, maintaining a robust defence infrastructure is paramount to safeguarding the nations interests and deterring potential adversaries. The failure to adequately invest in defence risks eroding the UK’s credibility on the international stage.

Furthermore, the debate surrounding defence spending reflects broader questions about the government’s priorities and its commitment to national security. At a time when geopolitical tensions are on the rise and the global order is undergoing profound shifts, the decision to cut defence spending sends a concerning signal about the country’s willingness to confront evolving challenges and protect its strategic interests.

The bipartisan nature of the calls for increased defence expenditure is indicative of the widespread recognition of the urgency of the situation. From the Tories to the Labour Party, there is a growing consensus that the current trajectory requires immediate action.

Moreover, the debate surrounding defence spending carries implications beyond the realm of national security, extending into the political arena. As the nation approaches a general election, defence is emerging as a salient electoral issue, reflecting public concerns and expectations regarding the government’s ability to ensure the country’s safety and security.

Ultimately, the outcome of this debate will have far-reaching implications for Britain’s role in the world and its ability to navigate the complex challenges of the 21st century. Arguably, it is imperative that policymakers fulfill the calls for increased defence expenditure and prioritise the strengthening of the country’s military capabilities to safeguard its interests and uphold its international standing in an increasingly volatile global environment.

This article was written by Curia’s Head of Foreign Policy, Rob Clark. To gain more foreign policy insight, sign up to our newsletter here.

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