Tom Tugendhat urges rise in defence spending to 2.5% 'now' - but denies rift with Rishi Sunak

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat (PA Wire)
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat (PA Wire)

Cabinet minister Tom Tugendhat on Monday insisted that military spending must rise to 2.5% of GDP “now” after the Budget failed to earmark significantly more on defence, but denied a rift with Rishi Sunak.

The Security Minister defended an apparent breach of Cabinet discipline 48 hours after Jeremy Hunt’s Budget last week, when he and Indo-Pacific Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan issued a 1,100-word comment piece.

In a round of broadcast interviews, he conceded that by posting the piece on social media site LinkedIn, they were not required to seek clearance from No10 as is routine when ministers write for newspapers.

“Look at the world that we're seeing today. Look at the rise in autocracy. Look at the challenges that we’re facing,” Mr Tugendhat said on Sky News, citing Russia, China and Iran.

“This Prime Minister has set out that agenda and we need to deliver it. I want to achieve 2.5% now, you know, as soon as possible, that is exactly what we need to achieve,” he said. “First step to do is to get to 2.5% and then we'll have to adjust as the challenges we face evolve.”

The LinkedIn piece credited Boris Johnson and former defence secretary Ben Wallace for pushing a big boost to spending when they were in office, but failed to mention the PM who was Chancellor at the time.

Mr Tugendhat said that “of course” Mr Sunak also deserved credit, and denied on LBC ever hearing him described as “Neville”, in an insulting comparison to the 1937-40 appeasement prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

“And I don't accept that at all. The Prime Minister has already increased defence spending when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he supported the increases that allowed us to support Ukraine,” he said.

“The Prime Minister has already set out a very strong agenda on making sure that we are able to defend not just ourselves but play our role defending our allies around the world.”

Nevertheless, Mr Hunt kept defence spending at around 2.0% of gross domestic product (GDP) - the target level for all Nato members - as he gave away £10 billion instead on cuts to National Insurance. He said that defence spending would rise to 2.5% “as soon as economic conditions allow”.

In their article, Ms Trevelyan and Mr Tugendhat said it was right that “the British people deserve to take home as much of their hard-earned cash as possible”.

“As the British economy turns a corner, however, there’s another principle we must not forget: that our prosperity is built on security,” they wrote, outlining the case for the UK to “lead the way” on defence and security spending.

The article pointed to unease from some in Conservative ranks about the direction of security policy, while others had wanted the Chancellor to cut income tax instead of national insurance in his pre-election budget.

But pushing back at Right-wingers, Economic Secretary Bim Afolami wrote on Monday: “To those who say that election year budgets should offer short-term giveaways, I say this: history tells us that the British public is much too smart and much too sceptical to be bribed.

“Instead, we must demonstrate our long-term commitment to a positive direction of travel,” he wrote on the website ConservativeHome. “The Budget put clear blue water between this Government, with its plan to move our economy forward, and those who have no plan at all.”

In a Sunday Times interview, Mr Sunak defended his record on military funding.

“I would just point to our record here as Chancellor when I oversaw the largest increase in the defence budget since the end of the Cold War with a £24 billion uplift,” he said.

“The whole point is, we recognised that the world that we’re living in was becoming more dangerous, and we had to invest more to protect the country against that.”