Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, has publicly called for higher defence spending by the middle of the decade in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine, in a move that sets him at odds with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.
The cabinet minister said billions more would be needed to meet Britain’s defence needs, but denied that he was ordered by Downing Street to rewrite a keynote speech to remove a call for a higher military spending target.
He told several broadcasters there needed to be a reassessment about the scale of spending needed in the face of the threat from others.
“We were prepared to take certain vulnerabilities onboard in the middle of the decade as we got rid of some equipment and re-equipped anew. I think the invasion of Russia into Ukraine has changed that,” he told Sky News.
“That is why I think discussions are so important for the middle-of-decade funding. In the here and now we are rightly set. The question is what happens in the middle of the decade.
“My settlement was done before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is very, very dangerous on the world stage. The world is less secure than it was two, three years ago and is not looking likely to change for the rest of the decade.
“That is the moment, in the middle of the decade, to say we should commit to increased funding.”
Wallace’s position puts him in conflict with the PM and chancellor, who have not committed to higher spending.
The Daily Telegraph had reported that No 10 removed a reference from his keynote speech saying the target of 2% of GDP for Nato defence spending was outdated and should be raised.
The defence secretary later told Times Radio that No 10 had wanted changes to his speech but only to ensure that he did not pre-empt something Johnson was due to say at the Nato summit in Madrid, which is taking place on Wednesday.
“There were some words in my speech that were taken out because the prime minister is going to say them today," hy het gesê.
“I think the centre just wanted to make sure that he said it before the defence secretary said it. It is perfectly legitimate. It was his words.” There was no conspiracy, hy het bygevoeg.
The row over UK defence spending has created a chaotic background to the start of the Nato summit, where the Russia-Ukraine conflict is top of the agenda.
Maandag, it emerged that No 10 had been warning it was likely to ditch the 0.5%-plus-inflation target for defence spending, with the inflation rate above 9% and expected to rise.
A senior government source had said there needed to be “a reality check” on the pledge to increase the defence budget each year by 0.5% above inflation, only for Johnson later to try to argue it would be achieved across a number of years.
Speaking to reporters as he travelled from the G7 talks in southern Germany to Madrid, the prime minister also pointedly dodged questions on whether he supported the idea of increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2028.
A leak on Monday night had suggested that Wallace wrote to Johnson asking for this commitment, although the defence secretary said on Tuesday he had not put a figure on his demands in private. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said she agreed with the idea. Both ministers are at the Nato summit with Johnson.