Anne-Marie Trevelyan backtracks on trade deal scrutiny

‘Is 2% enough?’: Two senior ministers break cover to call for defence spending hike

Two serving ministers have broken cover to urge the government to “lead the way” and increase defence spending to at least 2.5% of national income.

In an unusual intervention, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a foreign office minister and former defence minister, and Tom Tugendhat, the cabinet-attending security minister, published an article on LinkedIn which appears to overtly contravene collectively responsibility.

Read the post, entitled “Is 2% enough?”, in full below:

The Chancellor’s budget on Wednesday demonstrated a commitment to one of the Conservative principles we all hold dear – that, despite the pressures which the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have wreaked on the global economy, the British people deserve to take home as much of their hard-earned cash as possible.

As the British economy turns a corner, however, there’s another principle we must not forget: that our prosperity is built on security.

As the UK’s Indo-Pacific and Security ministers, we are confronted daily by rising global threats, and the risk they pose to the security of our citizens and our economies.

That geopolitical reality is reflected in defence budgets around the world. China announced this week that it was increasing its defence spending by another 7.2% this year, taking it to $230 billion. That’s more than twice what it was a decade ago. Russia is committed to spending 40% of its expenditure on defence and security this year. Vast sums by any standard to fight its illegal war in Ukraine. 

By contrast, the US defence budget is $842 billion this year, up less than 50% over the same period.  And the UK’s defence budget has risen from £43bn to £55bn – an increase of only 28%.

The Treasury explained that the budget this week was focused on helping our economy to grow. However, it’s difficult to overstate the impact that disrupted global supply chains would have on this mission in the long term. Strengthening our defence and security isn’t just necessary to deter these threats. It’s necessary to protect our future prosperity.

Covid had a severe impact on the global economy. During 2020, the world’s GDP fell by 3.4 percent – more than $2 trillion of lost economic output. A conflict around Taiwan could destroy $2.6 trillion of trade. And disrupted trade flows caused by Houthi terrorism in the Red Sea are already having an impact on our economy.

As Indo-Pacific minister, I spend my time in the region talking to politicians, think tanks, businesses, and civil society about their concerns on potential threats.  Economic coercion in the Indo-Pacific is felt daily and has challenged economies like Australia and the Philippines to reconsider their security requirements. We are working with Australia and the USA to deliver them a nuclear-powered submarine capability. 

Why? Because patrolling the vast Indian and Pacific oceans with nuclear power means they can travel further for longer and be part of the deterrence needed to dissuade malign actors from disrupting a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

The Australians know they must do and spend more to provide greater maritime security in their neighbourhood. They are working with our defence industry which offers decades of experience and advanced capability. The USA has just published a defence industrial strategy which sets out, for the first time in decades, an understanding that countries like China, Russia and North Korea have been investing heavily in defence for some years now and that we can no longer assume that we live in a benign world.

The reality is that for far too long, we in the West have allowed the false premise of a peace dividend to erode our defence and security. We must work with our partners to change this, and invest to ensure we can both deter and defend effectively. We must galvanise our industrial partners as they produce both traditional platforms, and new tech to assure that we and our allies maintain a capability gap that has been hard won but is easily lost.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that NATO is stronger than ever. We have been heartened to see our European and US allies standing up to defend democracy and sovereignty, and to assist the brave Ukrainians fighting for their country’s survival.

But NATO, whilst gaining new members who understand the defensive solidarity it brings, is funded, and sustained in large measure by the USA’s commitments. We have heard from many past US Presidents that there needs to be a greater investment by European partners to shoulder the burden of threats to member states. We can no longer guarantee the commitment at scale to NATO we have enjoyed when the US has many other threats to deal with. As the Indo-Pacific minister I hear and see America’s viewpoint, and the strains on their own resources are evident. The enormous illegal migration challenge on their southern border, alongside the stresses in their western Pacific waters, means even their vast resources are being prioritised for those threats. 

As Security minister, I see daily the threats funded by illicit drug money, weapons trafficking and the abuses of modern slavery and people trafficking. Those who wish our country, and our way of life harm are more active than ever. We must continue to invest in our security networks – in hunting down drug smugglers (a job effectively done by the Royal Navy) and in reducing illegal migration by investing at source and tackling human traffickers. These are issues affecting our NATO allies too and we must all step up to challenge the growing threats.

It’s clear to us that the UK needs to lead the way in increasing our own domestic defence and security spending commitments to 2.5% and beyond. Former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Prime Minister Boris Johnson made inroads into growing our defence budgets, which had been shrinking in real terms for years. But that only filled the hole. Now we need growth.

We must invest in our defence and security industry to grow their skilled workforce, to get service chiefs ensuring recruitment is on track and to reform defence to deliver better value.

We must strengthen our nuclear deterrent. 

We need to continue recapitalising our fleet more quickly to give industry long-term assurance for more continuous shipbuilding. 

We must get our munitions lines growing again – not least to help bolster those in Ukraine. 

We must drive the next generation fighter jet we are working on with Japan and Italy at greater pace. 

And we must invest in our defence industrial enterprise, treating it as the 6th military domain, not separate, focusing much more on our SME defence businesses, where innovation and asymmetric advantages are often found.

None of this is wasted cash. It’s investment in our own economy. And it protects our future economic security.

The sad truth is that the world is no longer benign. Protecting ourselves requires investment. And effective investment means that our industrial complex must grow and strengthen at much greater pace than at present.

We cannot turn on the complex platforms and weapons which ensure military advantage overnight. We must start that growth now, invest at pace to support our allies and stay ahead of our adversaries.

By Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP & Tom Tugendhat MP. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.