Labour stresses commitment to NATO and nuclear deterrent in defence speech

Sienna Rodgers
© Twitter/@Keir_Starmer

Labour will describe its commitment to NATO as “unshakeable” and its support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent as “non-negotiable” while setting out its core principles on defence and security in a speech on Friday.

Addressing the Royal United Service Institute, John Healey will criticise the government decision to implement a real-terms cut in revenue spending at the Ministry of Defence despite announcing extra capital spending.

“First, Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable. Second, Labour’s support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent is non-negotiable and we want to see Britain doing more to lead efforts to secure multilateral disarmament,” he will say.

“Third, Labour’s commitment to international law and the UN, to universal human rights and to the multilateral treaties and organisations that uphold them is unshakeable.

“And fourth, Labour’s determination to see British investment directed first to British industry is fundamental, not just to our thinking on defence, but on the kind of society we want to build.”

The Shadow Defence Secretary will emphasise that Labour wants to see defence spending produce jobs, growth and innovation in the UK, and will attack the last decade of cuts to defence under the Conservatives.

Calling on ministers to learn from the mistakes of past defence reviews, Healey will warn that he plans to challenge the government if it “attempts, yet again, to smother strategic decision-making in clouds of rhetoric and hubris”.

On the strength of the armed forces, Healey will say: “We cannot any longer go fudging and fumbling our way into the future, with major procurement projects at the mercy of the illusion that ‘something will turn up’ to pay for them.”

Underscoring how austerity in recent years has affected the foundations on which the integrated review will be built, Healey will set out tests to determine whether “the era of retreat” will end as promised by Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister told MPs in November that the MoD’s current annual budget of £41.5bn would increase by £4bn a year for the next four, in addition to the rise in defence spending by 0.5% above inflation each year of this parliament.

But Labour has pointed out that although around £16.5bn extra capital spending has been unveiled, revenue spending – going towards personnel, pensions, maintenance and support contracts – will be cut in real terms.

Criticising this decision, Healey will tell the RUSI: “The revenue cut is the Achilles’ heel of defence plans. No other Whitehall department is projected to have a cut in day-to-day spending between now and 2024/5.

“The Defence Secretary should never have agreed it. There are big decisions that can no longer be ducked. The Integrated Review must confirm the answers.”

On the importance of the UK’s defence industry, he will add: “We are the party of sovereign defence capability: we see the steel industry, the shipyards, and aerospace and materials industries as a national asset.

“We want to see a clear plan from government to enhance these capabilities. We want to see, for the good of our country, as much as possible of our equipment designed and built here.”

The government launched the review looking at security, defence, development and foreign policy early last year. It was originally set to be published in autumn 2020, but was delayed due to Covid and is now expected in March.

Ministers have said it will “send a message about what the UK stands for as an independent actor on the global stage and how we will back this up with action to secure our interests and also defend our values”.

In an interview with LabourList in November, Healey set out his approach to the defence brief and plan to win back the trust of the armed forces. He said Keir Starmer had asked him to “develop an authoritative Labour voice on defence again”.

The shadow cabinet member said he wanted people to know that “Labour could speak for the squaddie” while also maintaining its “adherence to international law, human rights and those sort of values”.

The Shadow Defence Secretary said armed forces and their families should be “part of the natural base” for Labour, yet the voter group had slipped away over the “last couple of decades – and decisively so in 2019”.

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