Rishi Sunak pledges mandatory national service for 18-year-olds

Young people would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year 'volunteering' in their community
Young people would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year 'volunteering' in their community

EIGHTEEN-year-olds would be forced to carry out a form of national service if the Tories are voted back in at the July 4 General Election, Rishi Sunak has announced.

Young people would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year “volunteering” in their community, the Tories said.

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

In an apparent pitch to older voters, the Conservatives said volunteering could include helping local fire, police and NHS services as well as charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly, isolated people.

Opposition critics dismissed the plans as unserious, with Labour saying the pledge would never come to fruition and amounted to “another unfunded commitment”.

Teenagers who choose to sign up for a placement in the forces would “learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement or civil response operations”, the Tories said.

The Conservatives said they would establish a royal commission bringing in expertise from across the military and civil society to establish the details of what they described as the “bold” national service programme.

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The party 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.

The Tories estimated that the programme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade, and said they plan to fund £1bn through a “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”.

The remaining £1.5bn will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which was brought in to replace lost EU funding after Brexit, the Tories said.

Sunak 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.

The National:
The National:

“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.

“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.”

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Defending the policy on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show, Home Secretary James Cleverley said it was aimed at tackling “social fragmentation”.

“Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities,” Cleverley said.

Speaking on Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips show, Cleverley did not deny the announcement was in part aimed at drawing the attention of those who may vote Reform.

The National: The SNP’s Westminster group could miss out on more than £1m if it fails to file accounts by the end of May, MP Stephen Flynn has warned (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)
The National: The SNP’s Westminster group could miss out on more than £1m if it fails to file accounts by the end of May, MP Stephen Flynn has warned (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Responding to the announcement, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said: “The only thing he is going to mobilise is Scotland’s youth against the Tories.

“And the SNP will be at their side, fighting against this pathetic policy, every step of the way.”