PM to meet military chiefs on unofficial campaign trail

Boris Johnson is continuing his unofficial general election campaign with talks with military chiefs and meeting troops on a visit to an army training ground.

The prime minister aims to highlight a £2.2 billion funding boost for the Armed Forces announced by Chancellor Sajid Javid in his spending round earlier this month.

Mr Johnson will be hoping his visit to troops in southwest England on Thursday goes more smoothly than campaign visits to an NHS hospital 24 hours earlier and to a police training college a fortnight ago.

Visiting Whipps Cross Hospital, in northeast London, the prime minister was confronted by an angry Labour-supporting parent of a sick child and told Tory cuts were destroying the NHS.

And his Donald Trump-style appearance in front of police recruits in Wakefield - when a young standing cadet behind him almost fainted - was criticised by West Yorkshire's chief constable.

The PM claims the extra money for defence will boost its budget to £41.5bn and allow the Armed Forces to prioritise key capabilities such as cyber, shipbuilding and the nuclear deterrent.

However, Labour questioned Mr Johnson's commitment to the military, with shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith calling his claims "hypocritical" after cutting personnel in all three Armed Forces services "for nine years running".

She said: "The Conservatives handed our servicemen and women a real terms pay cut for seven years running.

"Too many personnel and their families are stuck in shoddy housing because of the government's ideological obsession with outsourcing services to failing private sector companies."

But, speaking ahead of his talks and troop visit on Thursday, Mr Johnson said the funding increase of 2.6 per cent displayed his commitment to the Armed Forces and NATO, meaning the UK remains "the largest NATO defence spender in Europe".

He added that the UK can be "immensely proud" of the men and women serving their country, from being the first support ship to arrive in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian and fighting Islamic State, to British troops in Estonia supporting NATO "and warding off Russian aggression".

The prime minister also said his talks with the heads of the Armed Forces at Downing Street will ensure the services are "match fit" for global security challenges.

The prime minister will host the Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nick Carter, the heads of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, the vice chief of defence staff, the chief of Joint Forces Command and the defence secretary Ben Wallace for the meeting at Downing Street.

It follows a reception for more than 50 men and women who are currently serving in the Armed Forces at No 10, where the prime minister, joined by his partner Carrie Symonds and their new rescue dog Dilyn, heard their experiences of serving their country on the front line.

The prime minister also hailed the news that the UK will host the next NATO leaders meeting on 4 December at The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the alliance.

Increased defence spending is one of a number of commitments made by the government to support Britain's Armed Forces, recognising the vital role defence has to play in delivering a Global Britain.

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The Prime Minister's highlighting of the importance of defence follows:
• A Royal Navy order for five new Type 31 frigates which will be built in the UK by Babcock;

• The creation of a new Office for Veteran's Affairs with a dedicated minister and a £5 million budget, and;

• £7m of funding for the Normandy Memorial Trust to complete their memorial overlooking Gold Beach.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "In an increasingly unpredictable world the need for UK defence to secure our safety and stability is more vital than ever.

"Our investment in our forces ensures we can achieve strategic advantage across the globe while at the same time looking after those that sacrifice so much on our behalf.

"Post Brexit, defence will play a strong part across our nation, bonding our citizens and industry in a common purpose."

The Ministry of Defence says the UK currently has about 13,000 troops deployed across the globe.

They include nearly 1,000 serving with allies in Estonia and Poland on NATO's eastern flank, around 800 supporting and training the Afghan Security Force, and more than 1,000 deployed in the Gulf securing freedom of navigation, countering the narcotics trade, and combatting piracy.