Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to boost defence funding by £16.5 billion over the next four years. Johnson claims the deal would protect “hundreds of thousands” of jobs, and create 40,000 new employment opportunities. He declared: “I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and it ends now.” The decision comes a day after it was revealed that the foreign aid budget could be cut by 0.2%
The UK is not thought to have invested this much in defence since the Cold War; the prime minister explained: “The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies.” He elaborated: “This is our chance to end the era of retreat, transform our armed forces, bolster our global influence, unite and level up our country, pioneer new technology and defend our people and way of life.”
One week ago, Johnson pledged to be a strong military ally to US president-elect Joe Biden. The UK spends the most on defence in Europe; it is the second-biggest spender in NATO, topped only by America. The prime minister is also expected to announce a new military agency for artificial intelligence, alongside a new National Cyber Force, which will be headed by the Ministry of Defence and the Government Communications Headquarters. A new Space Command hopes to be able to launch rockets by 2022.
The Labour Party says the investment is “a welcome and long overdue upgrade to Britain’s defences after a decade of decline”, while the shadow defence secretary noted that “the size of the armed forces has been cut by a quarter” since 2010. The Ministry of Defence’s equipment budget has already fallen short by £13 billion; without the new programme, it may have been forced to decrease aircraft funding, and lose the use of its hospital ship.
However, the move has not been welcomed by all. The government has been criticised for failing to extend the £20-a week increase in universal credit payments beyond April, and for discontinuing free school meals throughout the holidays. Child poverty is on the rise as a result of COVID-19, and an extended increase in universal credit benefits would cost an estimated £9.5 billion. Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, argued: “If the government can find significant extra funds for defence then surely they can find money for children in crisis. It’s appalling that hard-pressed families have to rely on food banks to get by, and that the services that might stop them spiralling into further crisis are being cut year-on-year with local authorities facing bankruptcy.”