National service to return for 18-year-olds if Tories win General Election, PM Rishi Sunak announces

General Election campaign 2024
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced that if the Tories win the July 4 General Election and return to power, 18 year olds would be required to partake in a form of national service.

He contends that this drastic action is required, citing Britain as a nation with "generations of young people who have not had the opportunities they deserve" and suggesting this step would foster unity in an "increasingly uncertain world".

According to the Conservative party, these youngsters would have two options either complete a full year placement in the military or commit to volunteering in their local area one weekend per month for a year.

In what appears to be a bid to resonate with older voters, the Tory party expressed that this volunteering could include aiding local NHS, fire and police services, or supporting charities that tackle loneliness and aid the elderly and isolated.

Mr Sunak hopes to differentiate his party from Labour on matters of international security, given his commitment to hike defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Taking the offensive against Sir Keir Starmer on Saturday, Mr Sunak argued that a Starmer-led government would leave Britons "at risk", since foreign adversaries would observe his lack of a clear plan.

Those teens opting for the armed forces route would "learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations", clarified the Tories.

Confirming the "bold" national service programme, the Conservatives have announced plans to introduce a Royal commission that combines military and civil society expertise.

The party also outlined their plan to launch the first pilot for the programme, aiming for applications to open in September 2025. Following the pilot, they hope to enforce the measures via a new "National Service Act" that would make it compulsory by the conclusion of the next Parliament.

Costs for this ambitious project are estimated to reach £2.5 billion a year by decade's end. The Tories plan to fund £1 billion of this amount by introducing measures to counteract tax evasion and avoidance.

The remaining £1.5 billion has been allocated from previously earmarked funds dedicated to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). This package is intended to provide support for charities and community groups.

Speaking about the initiative, the Prime Minister said: "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."

He continued: "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."

By making the service mandatory, he emphasised the potential benefits; "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."

Earlier on Saturday, the PM warned that a government under Sir Keir would lead to uncertainty 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 stated.

Sir Keir's party dismissed the announcement as "another desperate unfunded commitment" and highlighted that Lord David Cameron had introduced a similar initiative the National Citizen Service during his tenure as prime minister.

Unlike the current proposal, Lord Cameron's scheme did not include an armed forces element, instead focusing on engaging young people in activities such as outdoor education courses, aligning with his "Big Society" vision.

A Labour spokesperson criticised the proposal, saying: "This is not a plan it's a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon."

"Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas, and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It's time to turn the page and rebuild Britain with Labour."