Brits aged up to 60 face conscription, former top military general warns, as Whitehall draws up plans for 'volunteer army'

25 January 2024, 18:02 | Updated: 25 January 2024, 18:12

General Richard Shirreff (R) has warned Brits face conscription
General Richard Shirreff (R) has warned Brits face conscription. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Brits as old as sixty might have to serve in a Finnish-style conscript army, a former top British Army officer has said.

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Hundreds of thousands of Brits might need to be conscripted to fight against Russia, General Richard Shirreff, a former Nato commander, has warned.

It follows warnings from the current chief of the British Army about the current size of the military, which he says would be 'too small' to fight in a war.

He said in a speech yesterday that a 'citizen army' would be needed in a war against Vladimir Putin's Russia and that the Government would have to 'mobilise' the nation.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that conscription - which means forcing individuals to serve in the army - was not on the agenda.

Read More: War hero Ben McBean says Brits would need to be dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ if conscripted to fight in Russia

Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps, speaks to Chief of the General Staff General Patrick Sanders during a visit to a military training camp in East Anglia in the UK
Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps, speaks to Chief of the General Staff General Patrick Sanders during a visit to a military training camp in East Anglia in the UK. Picture: Alamy

While General Patrick Sanders did not directly endorse conscription, he argued that the mindset of ordinary Brits must shift, as we are part of the 'pre-war generation'.

Sir Patrick has suggested the Army should have a larger army of 120,000 within three years, which should include regular soldiers, reserves and former military personnel who could be called upon.

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But this would not be enough to win a war, he stressed, which are 'started by armies and won by civilians'.

General Shirreff, meanwhile, said the head of the Army was right to be talking about a 'citizen army'.

But he went further, saying conscription may be necessary to deliver the "numbers needed".

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"I think now, against all the odds though, is the time to start thinking the unthinkable and really having to think quite carefully about conscription if we are to deliver the numbers needed," he declared.

Meanwhile, those in Government are looking at how they would train a large amount of volunteers in a short amount of time, using sessions with Ukrainian troops as a blueprint.

Around 30,000 Ukrainian troops have been trained up by Britain, which includes some civilians.

How would conscription work?

British Army infantry on exercise in UK
British Army infantry on exercise in UK. Picture: Alamy

Mandatory military service was first introduced in the First World War under the Military Service Act of 1916 and again in the Second World War under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of 1939.

In the First World War, every fighting-age man between 18 and 41 was liable to conscription.

However there were several exemptions by the time of the Second World War, and these exemptions are likely to apply in the hypothetical event of another world war in the modern day.

Which professions would be exempt?

Those who work in key industries that are considered vital to keeping the country running would likely be made exempt in the event of a war.In the Second World War, these professions included: baking, farming, medicine, coal mining and engineering.

In the First World War, exemptions were also extended to clergymen, teachers and some industrial workers.

While it’s likely the list of professions exempt would be adapted to the modern landscape, they indicate the types of roles considered important for keeping the country running.

You can read more about how conscription would work here.