UK should 'lead way' on defence spending as threat now 'much greater' than Cold War, ex-minister says

A former Conservative defence secretary has urged the UK to "lead the way" on defence spending, warning the country is facing a greater threat now than during the Cold War.

Sir Michael Fallon told Sky News' Trevor Phillips that fewer than half of NATO's members spend 2% of their GDP on defence, "so we need to be cajoling the rest of the alliance and setting an example".

He said spending started to fall after the Cold War but the threat facing the UK now is "much, much greater" than then.

"We have a war going on in our continent. We have British ships being sunk out in the Gulf. We have international terrorism still on our doorstep. The threat has magnified and therefore we need to beef up our defences."

Sir Michael, who served in his post from 2014-2017, called for political parties and candidates to commit to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP in the next parliament, saying that is around £8bn-£9bn more than what is being spent now.

It comes after a Sky News report found the government has no national plan for the defence of the UK or the mobilisation of its people and industry in a war despite renewed threats of conflict.

Ministers have warned that Britain is moving to a "pre-war world" with concern growing about Russia, China and Iran.

But this has not been accompanied by a Cold War-style plan.

Read more: Is the UK preparing for war amid threats of conflict?

The report has renewed calls from politicians and defence figures for the UK to beef up its defences.

'UK not resilient enough to global shocks'

Darren Jones, Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News the UK is "not resilient enough to global shocks, whether that is war, climate or pandemics".

He said: "For too long we've not had strong enough supply chains to bolster our ability to withstand those events, and as a consequence of that, people suffer the consequences around inflation and things like energy bills and the cost of living.

"We do agree with you from the Labour Party's perspective that the UK is not as resilient as it should be, and that measures should be taken."

He said the Labour Party wants to review defence spending, but can't do so in opposition as it does not have all the information.

"It's very clear the way in which the defence budget is being spent... needs to be better," he said.

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Retired British Army colonel Tim Collins said the UK is in a strong position when it comes to its nuclear deterrent programme, telling Sky News that "if it came to nuclear war... we can hit anywhere in the world".

Noting that would only happen in an extreme circumstance, he said the UK does not have enough aircraft and called the failure to recruit more numbers into the army a "national disgrace", while our capacity to make equipment "is in a perilous state", he said.

UK 'unprepared' for war

Elisabeth Braw, who is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Sky News the revelations from defence and security editor Deborah Haynes were "not surprising".

She added that while the armed forces have done their job "very well", there has been "little attention paid to the other parts of society that have to be part of any defence efforts in case of a war".

This, Ms Braw said, was shown by COVID.

"It was clearly not an act of war," she said. "But we saw the UK be woefully underprepared - or unprepared - for this kind of crisis, and wider society having no idea what to do.

"And we will face the same situation in case of an armed conflict, because there hasn't been any preparation."

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Dr Patricia Lewis, who heads up the international security programme at the Chatham House thinktank, said it has been more than a decade since a national plan was shown to parliament's defence committee - although she did caveat this with the fact planning may have continued in the background.

She said rectifying this has likely already started - but funding could be an issue.

"One of the important things, I think, is to think about what capability we have now which is truly operational, what is kind of good enough to be deployed and really focus on that... and have the capacity to ramp up manufacturing," Dr Lewis said.

'Range of plans in place to secure and defend the country'

Questions remain over when the government will raise defence spending to 2.5% from 2% of GDP, having only committed to do so "as soon as economic conditions allow" - despite pressure from ministers and backbenchers to go further.

In response to Sky's original article, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: "We have a range of plans in place to secure and defend the country, which are reviewed and adapted in response to international security developments.

"These plans will be integrated as part of our contribution to ongoing work to develop a cross-government National Defence Plan, which will further enhance our preparedness and strengthen our deterrence for the future."