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A senior government source admitted that the Conservative commitment to hike annual military spending by 0.5 per cent above inflation could no longer be met because of the Covid pandemic.
In their 2019 Tory manifesto, the party pledged to exceed the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, and increase the budget by at least 0.5 per cent above inflation every year.
However, a senior government official said the country’s post-Covid finances meant there had to be “a reality check on things that were offered in a different age”.
The source said: “The manifesto was written before £400bn had to be spent locking people up for their own safety because of the global pandemic.”
“The intention is always to honour manifesto commitments, but they were made before £400bn was spent coping with a global pandemic that none could have possibly foreseen,” they added.
Mr Johnson is at odds with his defence secretary on military spending as the PM prepares to join other Nato leaders in Madrid on Tuesday.
Mr Wallace has asked the PM to increase the country’s military spending from 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of GDP – an additional 20 per cent a year – by 2028 in the face of the growing threat from Russia.
In a letter to the PM, the cabinet minister also urged him to call on fellow Nato leaders to raise their own spending from the current minimum target of 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of national income, according to Talk TV.
The defence secretary issued his call for a boost in spending following Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine at the Royal United Services Institute think tank on Tuesday.
The former Commander Joint Forces Command General Sir Richard Barrons said that he supported Mr Wallace’s latest demands. “I back him 100%, as will all the service chiefs and every serving officer … we have to raise our game,” he said.
New figures shared by Nato this week showed that the proportion spent by Britain on its military has declined to 2.12 per cent – falling for the second year in a row.
Nato leaders are heading to a crucial Madrid summit at which they are expected to agree the biggest overhaul of the Western alliance since the end of the Cold War.
The alliance will hugely increase the number of troops placed on “high readiness” in its rapid response force from 40,000 to over 300,000, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced on Monday.
The UK will boost the number of troops committed to Nato’s response force as part of a “high alert” standby force, and reportedly ready to send thousands more troops to the Nato battlegroup it leads in Estonia, where 1,700 British soldiers are already deployed.