Labour spent more on defence than we do now, admits Tory peer

British soldier firing his GPMG towards the enemy during an exercise
The Government is under pressure to ramp up military spending as geopolitical tensions worsen - Army

The UK spends less of its national income on defence than it did when Labour left office, a Tory peer has admitted.

Spending on defence as a percentage of GDP had fallen from 2.47 per cent in 2010 to 2.28 per cent in 2023, the Earl of Minto said.

According to the defence minister, who sits in the Lords, the UK has not come any closer to spending 2.5 per cent of its GDP on defence, which is the current government target, since Labour was last in power in 2010.

It comes as the Government comes under increasing pressure to ramp up military spending as geopolitical tensions worsen.

Responding to a written question from Lord Rogan, of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Earl of Minto provided figures dating back to 2010 on the UK’s defence spending as a percentage of GDP.

Expenditure has gone up since its lowest point of 2.03 per cent in 2015, but still falls short of the 2010 figure.

Sir Keir Starmer vowed last week that Labour would aim to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP if he were to become prime minister – the first time he has made such a promise.

The Labour leader said his party wanted to reach 2.5 per cent “as soon as resources allow that to happen”.

He added: “That was the position when Labour left government and we absolutely stand by our commitment to Nato.”

It matches the Government’s existing aim, but Rishi Sunak has not given a specific timeframe on when or how it would be achieved.

John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said that the figures were “another example of how the Conservatives have failed our forces over the last 14 years”.

He added: “Tory ministers have hollowed out our Armed Forces, created a recruitment crisis, and cut the British Army to its smallest size since Napoleon, while wasting over £15 billion in bad defence procurement.”

A Whitehall source said: “We have a plan for defence and have pledged to get to 2.5 per cent of GDP when possible. But Labour cannot be trusted on the defence of our country.

“Remember Sir Keir Starmer was one of the shadow cabinet that wanted to make Jeremy Corbyn, a man who wanted to scrap the nuclear deterrent and destroy Nato, prime minister.”

Writing in The Telegraph earlier this month, Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said that “we have moved from a post-war to a pre-war world”.

He said that members of the Nato alliance “must do more to pay their way” and reiterated his commitment to boost spending to 2.5 per cent and to continue to “be a leader in the Alliance”.

But three former Tory defence secretaries have called for an even greater defence spending commitment of 3 per cent in the party manifesto.

Poland was the top spender on defence in 2023, allocating 3.9 per cent of GDP - more than twice what it had spent in the previous year.

It came ahead of the US, which spent 3.5 per cent, roughly in line with its spending for the last decade.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We have been clear that we need to spend more on defence in a more dangerous and contested world.

“That is why the Government has overseen the largest sustained defence spending increase since the end of the Cold War - with a £24 billion uplift in cash terms since 2020, and an additional £11 billion at last year’s Spring Budget.

“We have committed to increase that to 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, when the economic situation allows.”