Labour won’t make same defence spending pledge as Tories, says Thornberry

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry said: 'We want to move towards 2.5 per cent. It was 2.5 per cent when we were last in power' - Thomas Krych/Shutterstock

Emily Thornberry has said Labour will not make the same commitment on defence spending as the Tories.

The shadow attorney general said the party would seek to hit the target of spending 2.5 per cent of GDP “when circumstances allow” rather than setting a firm date.

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, also stopped short of setting out a timeline as she stood in for Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions, saying only that “we all want to see Britain achieve the goal”.

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak announced that Britain would ramp up defence spending to £87 billion a year by the start of the 2030s, which will amount to 2.5 per cent of total GDP.

His commitment will see the UK spend a cumulative extra £75 billon on the military over the next six years, making it by far the biggest spender in Europe as things stand.

He has said the pledge should set a new benchmark for all countries in Nato and especially those in Europe, who he said must do more to fund their own defence.

But Labour pledged only to raise spending to 2.5 per cent “as and when we can”. Asked whether Labour would pursue the target “as and when” the party comes to power, Ms Thornberry told Sky News: “Not as and when we come to power, but as and when we can, so when circumstances allow.

“We want to move towards 2.5 per cent. It was 2.5 per cent when we were last in power. But we need to move towards that and we are not going to say that we are going to do it by 2030, as the Government have said, unless there is a plan that makes sense.”

The Labour frontbencher claimed the Tories had failed to set out how they would pay for the increase in defence spending, labelling the pledge a “gimmick”.

Challenged by Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, in the Commons, Ms Rayner said: “We all want to see 2.5 per cent. The difference is that we haven’t cut the Army to its smallest size since Napoleon.”

Labour has said it will only raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP if it is achievable within the party’s borrowing rules.

In the meantime, it would conduct a review of “strategic defence and security” in its first year to “fully understand the state of our Armed Forces, the nature of threats we face and the capabilities needed”.

The Conservatives criticised Labour for failing to match their pledge, with Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans’ affairs, suggesting Sir Keir’s defence review could hold up progress “as the world gets more dangerous”.

He said: “This is the same old Labour Party that sent our Armed Forces into battle with appalling equipment. The idea they can be trusted on defence, only a few years after trying to put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street, is absurd.”