Rishi Sunak accused of writing national service plan 'on back of a cigarette packet'

-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)


Rishi Sunak has been accused of dreaming up his national service plan on the back of a cigarette packet while enjoying a "duvet day".

The embattled Prime Minister wants 18-year-olds to either join the military for 12 months or do "volunteer" work one weekend a month for a year.

But the Conservatives have not said how the scheme would be enforced if people refused to take part - with fears being raised it could see youngsters jailed.

The policy - which has been derided by opposition parties - is viewed by many as a desperate appeal to older right-wing voters who have abandoned the Tories for Reform UK.

Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, today claimed Sunak's plan was "something that's been done on the back of a cigarette packet".

Referencing reports the PM had taken a break from campaigning on Saturday, the Labour MP quipped the scheme had been dreamed up "on the Prime Minister's day off - his duvet day".

Asked by the Record if Labour would rule out implementing a similar national service scheme, Murray said: "There is no scheme happening as this is a proposal from the Conservatives - if they don't win the election, it won't be coming in.

"It's another gimmick, like the Rwanda plan was a gimmick.

"They have no real answers to the big issues of the day, like the cost of living, jobs and the economy.

"So they are thrashing around with policies they have previously ruled out. Rishi Sunak previously ruled this out two years ago. David Cameron tried to do this 14 years ago and failed miserable.

"So it's more gimmick and gesture politics from a Prime Minister who is out of ideas."

The Prime Minister had earlier claimed the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose”.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall said: “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.”

The Tory plan would see 30,000 placements for “the brightest and best” in the Army while everyone else would carry out volunteer work instead, the Conservatives said.

The party claimed the programme would cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1 billion through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”.

The remaining £1.5 billion will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

That drew anger from the SNP today who warned it threatened funding for Scotland.

Amy Callaghan, SNP candidate for Mid Dunbartonshire, said: "The SNP will stand firm against Tory plans to slash Scotland’s funding and impose mandatory national service on young people – showing why it’s essential to vote SNP to get rid of the Tory government and put Scotland first."

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Even by Rishi Sunak’s standards, this proposal is absurd, immoral and desperate.

“It has no place in a modern democracy, let alone in the manifesto of a party that is serious about governing.”

Sunak’s plan involves a royal commission to bring in expertise from across the military and civil society to establish the details of what he described as the “bold” national service programme.

The Conservatives said this commission would be tasked with bringing forward a proposal for how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

After that, it would seek to introduce a new National Service Act to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, the party said.

Home Secretary James Cleverly later said there would be no criminal sanctions for those who did not take part.

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