Tory defence minister rejected national service proposal two days before announcement

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


A Conservative defence minister rejected the prospect of national service two days before the Tories announced they would introduce it if they win the General Election. Andrew Murrison said there were “no plans” to restore the policy, saying that it could damage morale if “potentially unwilling” recruits were forced to serve alongside armed forces personnel.

On Saturday, Rishi Sunak announced plans to make 18-year-olds take part in a form of “mandatory” national service, either on a 12-month placement in the military or by doing volunteer work. The armed forces option would be selective – with some 30,000 placements for “the brightest and best”, the Conservatives suggested.

All other 18-year-olds would carry out work one weekend a month for a year to help their community, which could include organisations such as fire, police and NHS services or charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly people, under the proposals.

The Prime Minister said the programme would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose”. But just two days before the announcement, Mr Murrison, who served for 18 years as a medical officer in the Royal Navy and was recalled as a reservist for a six-month tour of duty in Iraq during the war, expressed opposition to any restoration of national service.

In a statement on behalf of the Government responding to a written parliamentary question published on Thursday, after Mr Sunak had called a July 4 election, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Families said: “If potentially unwilling national service recruits were to be obliged to serve alongside the professional men and women of our armed forces, it could damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources.

“If, on the other hand, national service recruits were kept in separate units, it would be difficult to find a proper and meaningful role for them, potentially harming motivation and discipline. For all these reasons, there are no current plans for the restoration of any form of national service.”

As part of the newly announced national service proposals, 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. 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.

National service takes its name from the compulsory military training men aged 17 to 21 and to undertake in the UK between 1949 and 1960. In postwar Britain, it involved 19 months of training in the armed forces and four years spent on a reserve list. Home Secretary James Cleverly said the new scheme would not force anyone to do military training or face combat.

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

The Tories estimate the programme will cost £2.5billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1billion through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”. The remaining £1.5billion will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key part of the Levelling Up agenda which supports local charities and community groups, the Tories said.

The Conservative Party has been contacted for comment.

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