Boris Johnson asks Nato allies to ‘step up’ spending amid row with Ben Wallace

Boris Johnson will call on Nato allies to step up their defense spending in the face of the Russia threat, despite a scathing attack from his own defense secretary Ben Wallace on the UK’s “smoke and mirrors” military budget.

The prime minister said he would “leverage” Britain’s military spending to “drive greater commitments from other people” ahead of crucial talks with fellow Nato leaders at a summit in Madrid.

But Mr Wallace said UK forces had for too long survived on “a diet of smoke and mirrors, hollowed-out formations and fantasy savings” – after calling for the PM to commit to a 20 per cent spending increase.

It came as the new head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, warned that any further cuts to Army troops – set to shrink from a target figure of 82,00 to 72,500 – would be “perverse”.

The row erupted after it emerged that Mr Wallace had written to the PM to ask him to hike military spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2028. The defense secretary fears the target will not be hit without significant new commitments.

Mr Wallace told the RUSI think tank on Tuesday: “If governments historically respond every time the NHS has a winter crisis so must they when the threat to the very security which underpins our way of life increases.”

Labor also accused the PM of “breaking” his own 2019 manifesto promise on defense spending, after a senior government source said the pledge to hike annual military spending by 0.5 per cent above inflation could no longer be met.

The government official said the country’s post-Covid finances meant there had to be “a reality check on things that were offered in a different age”.

Speaking to reporters on his journey to Madrid, Mr Johnson defended defense spending and dismissed the above-inflation target – saying “you don’t look at inflation as a single data point”.

The PM said the UK’s own spending now stood at 2.3 per cent of output, above Nato’s 2 per cent minimum target. Mr Johnson said the greater threat level sparked by the Ukraine invasion “requires us all to step up … the UK is doing so.”

Labour’s shadow defense secretary John Healey said: “The prime minister keeps breaking his defense pledges to the British public. With increasing and rising Russian threats, ministers must reboot defense plans and halt army cuts now.”

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

(PA Wire)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, grilled by MPs about the spending row, said she was not going to interfere with negotiations between Mr Wallace and chancellor Rishi Sunak.

But when asked by the foreign affairs committee if she agreed that the budget should be increased by 20 per cent over the next five years, she said: “The free world did not spend enough on defense post the Cold War and we are now paying the consequences.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson suggested Britain would soon be sending more troops to Estonia as part of the massive surge in forces.

Nato is set to agree to a huge increase in the number of troops placed on “high readiness” as part of its rapid response force, from 40,000 to over 300,000.

“We’re already got 2,000 troops in Estonia troops already,” said Mr Johnson. “We’re got two battlegroups in Estonia. We’re working with premier Kaja Kallas on what we can do to be more supportive to Estonia to help them operationally.”

The prime minister also said “progress” had been easing concerns from Turkey about Sweden and Finland’s desire to join the defense pact. “It’ll be a difficult conversation,” he admitted on the talks ahead.

President Tayyip Erdogan has been opposed to Sweden becoming a member because the country has been home to Kurdish militant groups.

Mr Johnson added: “The key thing here is that I think progress is being made. My understanding is that the Swedes in particular have made some important moves on [Kurdish militants]the issue that particularly concerns president Erogan.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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