UK's Sunak defends national service plan in election campaign

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits North Yorkshire

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood by his pledge to introduce mandatory national service if he gets re-elected, saying he was taking "bold action" at the right time after criticism over the plan, including from within his own party.

"I believe this is the right thing to do, because this is how we'll deliver a secure future for everyone and our country," Sunak told reporters on the campaign trail on Monday at the Chesham Football Club, just north of London.

"It's a clear plan, bold action," Sunak added.

Under Sunak's national service scheme, 18-year-olds will be able to choose between spending one weekend a month volunteering over the course of a year, or to take up one of 30,000 spaces to spend a year in the armed forces.

His comments come as the country's main parties carry out campaign events to meet voters ahead of the July 4 national election, with the governing Conservatives lagging the opposition Labour by around 20 points.

Sunak's decision to call a summer election left lawmakers from his own party blindsided last week, with some saying they were baffled and frustrated by the timing of the vote.

Steve Baker, Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, who had backed Liz Truss in a 2022 leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson, issued a statement on his website, criticising the policy and the lack of transparency in the policymaking process.

"Candidates are not involved and even relevant secretaries of state are taken by surprise when policy is announced. It is perhaps the worst aspect of the democratic process and I have no reason to think it is not common to the Labour party," he said.

"When people are doing no harm, government should leave them to work through their own virtues and vices in voluntary association with other people," Baker said.

(Reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Sharon Singleton)