Starmer pledges laws for new armed forces tsar in first King’s Speech if elected

A new armed forces tsar to represent the military and their families would be legislated for in the first King’s Speech if Labour wins the election, Sir Keir Starmer will pledge.

The independent commissioner would be tasked with holding the government to account on issues affecting service personnel, the party leader will say ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The plans were first announced last year but Labour has now committed to introducing the legislation in the first King’s Speech, which is expected to take place on July 17.

Other laws to give a “legal guarantee” to fair treatment for veterans would also be brought forward if Labour enters government, Sir Keir is expected to announce.

The party has pledged to fully enshrine in law the Armed Forces Covenant, which is an existing government commitment to support the military community through a range of initiatives and grants.

Sir Keir will pitch Labour as “once again a party of service” as he makes the announcement during a visit to southern England on Wednesday ahead of taking part in commemorative D-Day events.

He has been attempting to shift perceptions of Labour’s defence stance following the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing critic of Nato and Trident.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Shadow defence secretary John Healey, left, said the Labour Party had ‘deep respect’ for serving personnel (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seeks to draw a dividing line with his rival over the issue, having recently vowed to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Labour has said it would meet the spending target as soon as economic conditions allow but declined to give a specific time frame.

Sir Keir said: “The ultimate service is that of our armed forces personnel and veterans. Britain owes a huge debt of gratitude for all they have given our country.

“My changed Labour Party, once again a party of service, will repay that commitment with a new package of support for veterans, service personnel and their families.

“We will establish a new armed forces commissioner and enshrine a new armed forces covenant fully into law.”

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said the party has “deep respect” for serving personnel and its new laws would begin to “right the wrongs for everyday forces life”.

“Labour’s new laws will improve everyday life for those who serve and the families who support them. They will begin to right the wrongs for everyday Forces life with a new independent champion, a legal guarantee of fair treatment and ensuring our veterans are properly respected,” he said.

“Labour will work with our armed forces communities to renew the nation’s contract with those who serve and the families who support them.

“Labour is totally committed to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, veterans minister Johnny Mercer said he would be speaking about the Tories’ offer to the armed forces community on Thursday as D-Day commemoration events take place.

He said: “Unlike this from Labour, we’ve worked hard to galvanise the main asks of wider veteran community and the veterans’ charities, and veterans should be excited about our plans to continue to drive progress towards being the best country in the world to be a veteran.”