Keir Starmer to kick back defence spending decision at NATO summit in first foreign visit as Prime Minister

9 July 2024, 22:51 | Updated: 10 July 2024, 07:20

Sir Keir Starmer will kick back a key decision on when Britain will spend more cash on defence
Sir Keir Starmer will kick back a key decision on when Britain will spend more cash on defence. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Sir Keir Starmer will kick back a key decision on when Britain will spend more cash on defence – despite growing threats around the world.

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As he attends his first international summit in the US, the Prime Minister will on Wednesday slap down calls to put a timeline on when we will reach 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence.

He will instead order a review into the challenges facing the UK to start next week – expected to take months to report back.

Defence Secretary John Healey will lead the government’s strategic defence review, which will set out what capabilities are needed and a “roadmap” to 2.5 per cent.

And it will attempt to find savings in procurement in a bid to free up the cash to spend and get better, faster value for money.

Follow the NATO summit with LBC
Follow the NATO summit with LBC. Picture: LBC

Britain will have a ‘NATO-first policy’, the PM will say on Wednesday as he meets other leaders on the world stage for the first time.

He will promise the UK’s “cast iron commitment” to spending 2.5 per cent – up from 2.3 per cent currently – as he attends the NATO Summit’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington DC.

But he won’t put a timeline on when that will be reached, risking a backlash from defence bosses and Tories.

Keir Starmer's trip to Washington DC is his first foreign visit as prime minister
Keir Starmer's trip to Washington DC is his first foreign visit as prime minister. Picture: Alamy

It comes as he calls on other NATO members to ramp up their own spending in a bid to safeguard the future of the alliance.

The Labour leader faced huge criticism during the election campaign for refusing to put a timeline on his plans.

Rishi Sunak used one of his final trips in office to promise to get there by 2030, partly paid for by cuts to the civil service.

Sir Keir Starmer will kick back the key decision on when Britain will spend more cash on defence
Sir Keir Starmer will kick back the key decision on when Britain will spend more cash on defence. Picture: Alamy

Prime Minister Keir Starmer said: “There is no more important duty for me as Prime Minister than keeping the people of our country safe.

“At a time when we face multiple threats at home and abroad, we must make sure we are ready to defend ourselves. That’s why I have immediately ordered a root-and-branch review that will secure Britain’s defences for the future.

“Working with our most important partners around the world, our Strategic Defence Review will make sure the UK is sending a clear message to those who seek to undermine peace and democracy – you will not succeed.”

Defence Secretary John Healey added: “Britain’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable. We cannot have prosperity without security and we must never take our ability to live freely for granted.

“The world is increasingly volatile with rapidly changing global threats. In the footsteps of Bevin, our government will help ensure we have a strong NATO in this increasingly insecure world.

Defence Secretary John Healey has said “Britain’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable"
Defence Secretary John Healey has said “Britain’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable". Picture: Alamy

“Our government’s first duty is to keep the country safe. That’s why we will increase defence spending and launch a Strategic Defence Review to ensure we have the capabilities needed to protect the UK now and in the future. The Review will also set out defence reforms to secure faster procurement and better value for money,” John Healey said.

Foreign Secretary David Lammy, Defence Secretary John Healey and Europe minister Nick Thomas Symonds will join him on his first official trip overseas.

And wife Vic will be by his side too for the official spousal programme, and will meet with the First Lady at the White House for dinner tonight.

Starmer and US president Joe Biden are expected to have their first face-to-face meeting as leaders later on Wednesday – with Ukraine, Russia, and the war in the Middle East at the top of the agenda.

However, no meetings with Donald Trump’s team are currently in schedule, Number 10 said on Tuesday.

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