Boris Johnson is facing controversy over increased defense spending as he heads to a NATO summit that is likely dominated by the need to increase military resources to counter Russia.
The government may be forced to back out of its commitment to increase the defense budget by 0.5% above inflation, a senior source acknowledged.
The source acknowledged that with inflation hitting 11% this year and public finances hit by the effects of the pandemic, the promise made in the 2019 election manifesto could be rescinded.
“The manifesto was written before £400bn had to be spent locking people in for their own safety due to the global pandemic,” a senior government source said.
“There’s a reality check on things that were offered in a different era, and that’s the only reasonable thing we can expect.”
The source said “the intention is always to honor the manifesto commitments, but they were taken before £400bn was spent fighting a global pandemic that no one could have foreseen.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace is reportedly pushing for a 20% increase in spending.
The government is committed to achieving NATO’s goal of spending 2% of gross domestic product (a measure of the size of an economy) on defense, with spending currently around 2.1%.
Mr. Wallace wrote a letter to Mr. Johnson ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid, which begins with a formal dinner on Tuesday evening.
The defense source did not deny the reports, saying: “We do not comment on alleged leaks.
“The Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister have always said that the government will respond to any changes in the threat, which is why in 2020 the Ministry of Defense received a record defense agreement.”
The government sees the 2% figure as “a floor, not a ceiling,” but any further increase in defense spending must be balanced against broader pressure on public finances.
Ahead of the NATO summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg laid out plans to dramatically increase the size of the high-readiness force from 40,000 to 300,000 in response to the Russian threat.
The move will be part of a package that represents “the biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defense since the Cold War,” he said.
Tobias Ellwood, Tory, chairman of the Committee for the Defense of the Commons, argued that UK spending should increase to 3% of GDP and troop reductions should be reversed.
The NATO summit in Madrid follows the G7 meeting in Germany, where the diplomatic response to the war in Ukraine overshadowed other topics.
The military and security response to the crisis in Eastern Europe is expected to be the focus of leaders in Madrid.