Ahead of the start of the Nato leaders summit in Madrid on Wednesday, the Prime Minister told Britain’s Western allies they will need to step up military investment to curb Russian aggression.
But despite exceeding Nato’s target for member countries to spend at least 2 per cent of national GDP on defence, Mr Johnson has been forced to defend Britain’s own defence spending after it emerged the UK may not be able to hit a 2019 Tory manifesto pledge to expand the defence budget by 0.5 per cent above inflation every year of the new Parliament.
With inflation rising to a forty year high of 9.1 per cent in May that would mean spending expanding the defence budget by 10 per cent this year – something which would place the already strained public finances under even greater pressure.
However Mr Johnson told reporters travelling with him to the Nato summit in Madrid that the Government would still meet its manifesto pledge when defence spending is averaged out over the course of the Parliament up to 2024.
Mr Johnson said: “The Nato Alliance keeps our people safe every day. But over the next ten years the threats around us are only going to grow.
“We need allies – all allies – to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defence in the decade ahead. The 2% was always meant to be a floor, not a ceiling and allies must continue to step up in this time of crisis.”
The Prime Minister’s comments come as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and the new head of the Army General Sir Patrick Saunders called for a big jump in defence spending to help deal with the growing threat from Russia as well as other security challenges.
As part of a major step up in Nato’s military presence to defend Europe’s eastern flank, the Prime Minister is expected to announce a number of new UK commitments on Wednesday to strengthen the alliance.
These are set to include expanding Britain’s national headquarters in Estonia to ensure it can provide rapid reinforcements with high readiness forces if needed, and further increasing the lethality of forces already based in Estonia through the deployment of capabilities such as artillery, air defence and helicopters.
The Government said these new investments, plus the unprecedented surge of support to Ukraine which is set to hit £1.3billion, are projected to increase the percentage of GDP the UK spends on defence this year to around 2.3 per cent – making the UK again the leading European defence spender this year.
Speaking ahead of his arrival in Madrid Mr Johnson said the Government would hit its manifesto pledge on defence.
“We have been running way ahead of that target for a while now,” he said, referring to the 0.5 per cent above inflation measure. “We are confident that we will meet that, you don’t look at inflation as a single data point, you look at it over the life of the Parliament and I’m confident we will meet that.”
He added: “Last year we were the third biggest defence spender in the world, we’ve another £24 billion going in under the current spending review, the biggest since the end of the Cold War. We are currently running at 2.3 per cent of our GDP going on defence.”
NATO’s own assessment published this week indicated that the UK spent an estimated 2.26% of GDP on defence in 2021 and was on course for 2.12% in 2022.
Only nine of the 30 NATO members currently hit the 2 per cent target but 19 more have pledged to raise their spending to that level in the coming years.