Ben Wallace has hinted defence spending should increase as he claimed “it is a dangerous world” at the moment.
The Defence Secretary delivered a speech at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, south-west London, on Monday, during which he accused the Russian regime of “mirroring (the) fascism and tyranny” of Nazi Germany as the Moscow parade to celebrate the 1945 victory over Hitler’s forces was under way.
Responding to questions from the media afterwards, Mr Wallace also suggested defence spending should increase from 2024-2025.
Mr Wallace later described the Army’s land fleet as “woefully behind its peers” and it “needs definitely to modernise”.
I have always said as a threat changes, so should our funding. No different from other parts of Government, if pressure on the NHS goes up, that gets met with money. If threat changes, then that should.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
Mr Wallace said the Conservative chairman of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, and others believe in increasing defence spending because “it is a more insecure world”, adding “it is a dangerous world” and “I do agree with that”.
However, he claimed to be in a “sound position” this year and next year in terms of funding, leaving the question open as to whether more cash should be set aside from 2024-2025 onwards.
Mr Wallace said: “I have always said as a threat changes, so should our funding. No different from other parts of Government, if pressure on the NHS goes up, that gets met with money. If threat changes, then that should.
“If it goes down, be prepared what you wish for, because if the threat goes down, maybe defence spending. So, I think it’s up to me to present a case about the threat and what we need to do to counter it.
“Then it’s a discussion about Government, about its appetite. For decades, defence spending has been at risk for a number of things, but one common risk has been Government’s appetite has never matched its budget. It has done more than it can afford.”
He added: “Now, we should have that debate. I know Tobias (Ellwood) and others would say the debate is it does warrant more because it is a more insecure world. It is a dangerous world, actually, at the moment, and I do agree with that.
“But, at the moment, my spending for this year and last year, and next year, I’m in a sound position. The long-term is as much about what Nato plans I mean, I think we have to ask Nato: what is your long-term plan?”
Asked at a defence conference if he thought more spending on defence was justified as the cost-of-living crisis hits households, Mr Wallace said an extra £24 billion announced for the MoD in 2020 had been “very important” to “make sure that we modernise the Army”.
“I mean, the Army’s land fleet is woefully behind its peers. I mean, you can lay the blame at all sorts of reasons, but fundamentally it needs definitely to modernise,” he said.
But he added a “concerted campaign to tell people the importance of defence” would be needed to justify a larger budget, telling the conference: “I don’t think it is impossible to persuade the public of the importance of stability.”
It has recently been revealed that Mr Wallace wrote to the Chancellor on March 11 warning that Britain risked missing a Nato commitment to spend 2% of national income on security by 2025.
The letter was sent before the spring statement in March and highlighted the cost of arming Ukraine and rising inflation as the primary reasons Britain was facing a real-terms cut in defence spending.
According to the Times, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have spoken repeatedly to Mr Wallace about the letter, trying to persuade him it was the wrong time to increase defence spending.
Speaking on TalkTV’s The News Desk last week, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, Chief of the Defence Staff, confirmed that Mr Wallace had written to the Chancellor.
He said: “We’re a big-spending department, and we have regular conversations at all levels with the Treasury. The Defence Secretary writing to the Chancellor to say, this is our view of where defence spending is going, I think is pretty normal business.
“Are we involved in the same conversations? And do I support the Defence Secretary as the head of a big-spending department writing to a fellow Cabinet minister, such as the Chancellor? And is that normal? Absolutely.
“At the moment, under this spending review, we’re above 2% through the whole period. And then it starts to peter off, I think in 2024-25… that’s the subject of another spending review.”
Labour has backed calls to “look again” at defence spending.
Asked if he supports increasing defence spending, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week: “Yeah, I do think the Government’s going to have to come back to Parliament and look again at defence spending, and I know many Conservative MPs think that as well.
“I’d also say the Government at the moment is proposing to cut a further 10,000 or so from our armed services and I think they’re wrong to do that and I would call on them not to do it.”