James Cleverly says no-one will go to jail over Tory national service plans

Home Secretary James Cleverly speaks to the media outside BBC Broadcasting House
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

There's no risk of gaol time for teenagers who defy the Tories' proposed "mandatory" national service scheme, according to MP James Cleverly. His comments followed Labour describing the policy as a simple "gimmick".

Home Secretary Priti Patel explained that the intention behind the proposal is to bring teens "out of their bubble", with no plans to enforce criminal penalties on those who opt not to participate.

The first major policy announcement before the forthcoming General Election was made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. His promise involved a commitment for 18 year olds to undergo military service for 12 months or spend one weekend monthly for a year doing "volunteer" work.

PM Boris Johnson believes that this move will foster unity in our society amid an "increasingly uncertain world", providing youngsters with a "shared sense of purpose".

Keen to appeal to an older voter base and possibly attract supporters of Reform UK, the Conservatives stated that volunteer duties may include working alongside local fire departments, the police force, NHS services and charities aimed at combating loneliness and assisting elderly citizens.

However, the Opposition has labelled these proposals as non-serious. Labour representatives have expressed scepticism about the scheme ever becoming reality, labelling it as "another unfunded commitment".

In his round of interviews on Sunday, Cleverly reassured critics by claiming the Tories would tailor the scheme to cater to "fits with different people's attitudes and aspirations". This follows questions regarding potential punishments for teens opting out of the programme.

"There's going to be no criminal sanction. There's no-one going to jail over this," he confirmed to Trevor Phillips during Sky News' Sunday Morning programme.

"This is about dealing with what we know to be the case, which is social fragmentation."

"Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities. They don't mix with people of different religions, they don't mix with different viewpoints."

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall slammed the proposal, stating: "This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick, it is not a proper plan to deliver it, it doesn't deal with the big challenges facing young people who are desperate to get the skills and qualifications they need to get good jobs, to have a home they can call their own."

PM Boris Johnson is attempting to differentiate his party from Labour on issues of global security, following his promise to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Further advancing his critique on Saturday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak argued that voters will be left "at risk" under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer as Britain's foes would notice that he "doesn't have a plan".

Under the proposed national service plans, teenagers opting for military placement would "learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations", according to the Tories.

The Conservatives stated that they will create a Royal commission to bring expertise from the military and civilian society, aiming to lay out what they term as the "bold" national service programme.

The party said the commission would be tasked with ensuring the first pilot is open for applications by September 2025.

Following this, it plans to introduce a "National Service Act", which will make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, according to the party.

The military option will be selective, providing around 30,000 placements for "the brightest and best", while others will undertake volunteer work, as per Tory's suggestions.

They estimate the programme will cost £2.5 billion annually by the decade's end, funded in part (£1 billion) through initiatives to fight tax avoidance and evasion.

The remaining £1.5 billion comes from funds previously allocated for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key aspect of the Levelling Up agenda assisting local charities and community groups, as stated by the Tories.

The Prime Minister commented: "This is a great country but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world."

"I have a clear plan to address this and secure our future. I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country."

"This new, mandatory national service will provide life-changing opportunities for our young people, offering them the chance to learn real world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country."

But the scheme hit a snag on Sunday when it was revealed that just three days earlier, defence minister Andrew Murrison had dismissed the idea of reinstating "any form" of national service.

In a written statement to Parliament, the MP stated that forcing "potentially unwilling" recruits to serve could harm morale among regular armed forces personnel.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister warned that a government under Sir Keir would lead to instability and a "more dangerous world."

"The consequences of uncertainty are clear. No plan means a more dangerous world. You, your family and our country are all at risk if Labour win," he declared.

However, Sir Keir's party highlighted that a similar initiative, the National Citizen Service, was introduced by Lord David Cameron during his tenure as prime minister.

Unlike the proposed scheme, Lord Cameron's programme had no military aspect and instead focused on engaging young people in activities such as outdoor education courses, aligning with his "Big Society" vision.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Richard Foord MP slammed the Tories, saying: "If the Conservatives were serious about defence, they would reverse their damaging cuts to our world class professional armed forces, instead of decimating them, with swingeing cuts to the number of our regular service personnel."

Reform UK leader Richard Tice labelled the plan as "completely unworkable", while Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer blasted it as "removed from reality" and "not what our military needs and it certainly isn't what our young people need."

In a rain-soaked statement outside Downing Street earlier this week, Mr Sunak announced the July 4 General Election, marking his first significant policy declaration in the run-up to the polls.

Despite a rocky start to his campaign that included several blunders during a rapid two-day tour of the four nations, the Prime Minister has expressed that he is "pumped up" and relishing the campaign trail.

His itinerary featured a stop at Belfast's Titanic Quarter, which drew unfortunate "sinking ship" analogies to his party's prospects, and a visit to a brewery in Wales where he committed a faux pas regarding the Euros.

As campaigning gears up on Sunday, Rachel Reeves is set to rally Labour members with a speech in West Yorkshire, while the Prime Minister is hitting the pavements in the South East.

It's understood that Mr Sunak, a devoted Saints supporter, won't be present at Southampton's Championship play-off final against Leeds at Wembley stadium in the afternoon. Insiders revealed he can't attend the match as he's out engaging with voters, but he'll be closely monitoring the score.

In other news, Sir Ed Davey is kick-starting the Liberal Democrats' campaign bus in a marginal constituency within the so-called Tory blue wall of southern England.

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