Starmer to ask allies to commit to extra defence funding - but won't say when UK will hit target

Sir Keir Starmer will tell NATO allies the UK has a "cast iron commitment" to lifting the UK's defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, but is refusing to honour that commitment in his first term in government.

On a flight over to Washington, where NATO allies are gathering for the alliance's 75th anniversary, the prime minister insisted that hitting the 2.5% was "subject to our fiscal rules".

He refused repeatedly to commit to delivering on the commitment in his first term or offer a timeline for delivery ahead of the strategic defence review, which could take up to a year to conclude.

Sir Keir told Sky News: "We are committed to the 2.5% as I have said before the election and I say again after the election. That is subject to our fiscal rules but the commitment is there.

"The strategic review will take place - that will happen next week and we will set out the details of that. The manifesto commitment was that it would take place within a year.

"I would like it to happen quicker than that if I'm honest and we'll set out details about how we are going to do it.

"It is not the only commitment and one of the things we are emphasising as we go to this summit is that the contribution of the UK to NATO is unique in Europe in terms of the capability we are putting in, the deployment and our determination to use this summit to make progress on further support for Ukraine.

"So the 2.5% is an important commitment, but there are other really important aspects in the support we are putting in for Ukraine as well and to NATO."

However, Sir Keir was accused by a former colonel in British military intelligence of "playing with fire" for delaying the decision on defence spending until after the review.

Philip Ingram said "it will take years to fix the army, our ammunition stocks, get the RAF and navy ready".

Lord West of Spithead, a former head of the navy who was a security minister under a previous Labour government, said Labour should outline a timeline during the summit to "set an example to all European countries".

Sir Keir's "root-and-branch" review of Britain's defence capabilities comes on the heels of Boris Johnson's Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy which was published in 2021.

The Labour leader intends to use his first summit to urge other allies to step up spending to "safeguard the future of the Alliance" and will use his inaugural spot on the world stage to argue the case for all allies to adopt 2.5% as the new target, as opposed to the current one of 2%.

"Today, tomorrow and the next day is all about standing together with our allies, discussing practically how we provide further support to Ukraine, and send a very, very clear message to Putin that we will stand against Russian aggression wherever it is in the world," said Sir Keir.

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The meeting for the alliance's 75th anniversary has long been based on providing long-term assurance to Ukraine as it continues to fight back against Russia.

Moscow is stepping up the attacks on Kyiv, with Russian missiles blasting cities across Ukraine on Monday, damaging the country's largest children's hospital, with at least 42 people killed. It was the heaviest bombardment of Kyiv in four months.

Sir Keir said it was a "matter for others in due course" to rule on whether the attack constituted a war crime, but said it was a "shocking and appalling" attack.

He said: "My message to President Putin is this: this NATO summit should be seen as a clear and united resolve by NATO allies and others that we are there at same time to stand with Ukraine and stand up to Russian aggression whether in Ukraine or whether elsewhere including cyber aggression and other ways in which Russia is aggressive around the world."