Keir Starmer would leave Britain terrifyingly vulnerable to Russia

Labour Leader Keir Starmer
Labour Leader Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer cannot be trusted with our nation’s defence. To stop him, we Conservatives must demonstrate we can be.

When it comes to our nation’s defence, there are quite a few myths: “the public don’t care about it,” “there are better uses of public funds” and of course “guns or butter”, the idea that you can either spend on defence or on communities. These arguments are as old as they are wrong.

Investment in our military is returned many times more than official estimates can show. For decades it’s been a creator of new technology and a generator of vital skills.

The chief return on our military though, is in what doesn’t happen. We don’t get invaded. We don’t get pushed around by bullies. Our goods don’t get intercepted as they travel between ports. No one thanks the military for what doesn’t happen. We just take it for granted. Because of them we can sleep soundly in our beds. They are our insurance against the unforeseen and the unimaginable.

These are times, though, when you don’t need much imagination. Another tyrant is on the loose in Europe. Iran is raining drones and missiles on one of our closest allies. How we respond to these threats is not only important to deter future Russian and Iranian aggression, but also deter other nations – our competitors, who are watching. This is a defining moment for our country and our allies.

Another myth is that it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. That mood is evident in recent polling which hints at my party’s lead on defence disappearing. Who should you trust? You’ve heard the rhetoric, let’s examine the facts.

Since the 2020 Spending Review, the Conservative Government has committed an additional £24 billion to the defence budget. It’s the largest sustained increase since the end of the Cold War. We have already committed to reach 2.5 per cent GDP. Critically an extra £3 billion will be spent to ensure our nuclear deterrent, and the equipment programme now stands at £289 billion.

In defence, as in so many areas, we were left to clean up Labour’s mess. Liam Fox’s heroic efforts to retain and regenerate necessary capabilities worked. Proper oversight of operations was re-established, with deeper and more sophisticated reviews of the threats we faced. We built new partnerships – a new Atlantic charter, Aukus and the global combat air programme with Italy and Japan to name just a few.

Our resolve and commitment to Nato has never been in question, and has led the way in getting other nations to step up. We’ve got new tanks, warships, and fighter jets, and we’re deepening stockpiles. Applications to join the Armed Forces are at their highest in years, and we have transformed the reserve service.

We are also the first UK government to have a minister for veterans sat around the Cabinet table. We did all of this because we know it is our duty to do so. We were probably helped in that focus by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the veterans in the House sit on our benches.

And Labour’s record? In 2007, they considered shutting one or more key naval bases. In the 2005 election they disenfranchised large swathes of our Armed Forces by changing how they could register to vote without properly notifying them of the fact. By 2010, the Royal United Services Institute notes, the black hole in the defence budget and equipment programme stood at £74 billion.

Until last year, Labour had a shadow minister for peace and disarmament. The current shadow international development secretary praised a report calling for them to morph into “human security services” to “dampen down violence”. This is both ignorant of their current peacekeeping role and of the fact that to win peace you sometimes have to do more than ask people to “chill out”.

We all remember how Ed Miliband’s actions in the 2013 vote removed the possibility of Armed Forces being used in Syria. That naivety gave the green light to the disastrous consequences that followed. And Labour still harbours deep internal divisions on foreign policy. With Keir Starmer in charge, we could never have acted so decisively in defending Israel as we did last weekend.

Right now we should be prioritising Nato, Keir Starmer is planning an EU defence pact that would undermine it. Six senior members of his front bench, including the shadow deputy prime minister and the shadow foreign secretary voted against renewing our Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.

Just think about that for a moment: Labour frontbenchers who aspire to oversee UK foreign policy voted to scrap our only safeguard against nuclear weapons.

Labour doesn’t get this fundamental duty. Although “friend” of Hamas and Hezbollah, Jeremy Corbyn, is no longer in charge of the Labour Party, those that supported him are. And one of them is leading it.

Corbyn would not have had to ask our submarines to surface and return home to end our nuclear deterrent. He would simply have had to walk into No 10 for its credibility to fail. Anyone who supported him to become prime minister then is not fit to be prime minister now.

“Total” commitment to Trident is more than spending on submarines. It is the unwavering commitment to the doctrine, policy and duty that sits behind it. Keir Starmer and his party have demonstrated time and time again that they do not possess that.

In this increasingly dangerous world, this is no time to give Labour the opportunity to make us less safe again. After a pandemic and economic turmoil, people feel vulnerable. They want the government to have the competence and capabilities to guarantee their safety and their interests. They want a government that understands its first duty to them. That is what this Government provides, and what Labour has no plan to deliver, only hollow rhetoric.

It is clear Keir Starmer and Labour cannot be trusted with our nation’s defence. To stop them, Conservatives must and will build on our record, backing our Armed Forces and ensuring that we keep this country and its people safe. We know our first duty. For the sake of our nation we must now do it.