Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

‘Starmer is not serious about security’: Conservatives attack Labour on defence as Sunak attends G7

As Rishi Sunak attends the G7 summit in Italy, the Conservative Party has launched a fresh attack on Labour’s stance on defence and security. 

The prime minister will leave the election campaign trail on Thursday in order to travel to Italy for the G7 summit, which is also being attended by the leaders of Japan, Italy, Canada, France, the US and Germany.

In Italy, the PM will set out a £240 million aid package to Ukraine as world leaders meet to discuss how to intensify financial pressure on Russia.

Downing Street said the money would be used for emergency humanitarian aid and to rebuild critical energy infrastructure targeted by Russian bombing, as well as wider reconstruction.

Sunak said ahead of the G7 summit: “We must be decisive and creative in our efforts to support Ukraine and end Putin’s illegal war at this critical moment”.

He added: “We must move from ‘as long as it takes’ to ‘whatever it takes’ if we are to end this illegal war.

“From Ukraine to the Middle East, we will be discussing significant global threats at the summit. Such threats are why it is so vital to strengthen the UK’s national defence, through our commitment to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030.”

Sunak’s visit comes after he launched the Conservative Party’s election manifesto on Tuesday, with the document containing a raft of commitments on defence and security. 

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The centrepiece of the prime minister’s proposals includes the plan to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030. 

The manifesto also outlined the Conservatives’ ambition to become the largest defence exporter in Europe and restated the party’s pledge to introduce national service, which was first announced in the early days of the campaign.

Throughout this election, the Conservative Party has tried to foreground security and defence as a key dividing line with Labour. Keir Starmer has outlined his ambition to raise defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP “as soon as resources allow” — a pledge the Labour leader will recommit to as the party launches its manifesto on Thursday. 

In his speech at the Conservatives’ manifesto launch, Rishi Sunak said: “We Conservatives know that security is essential for success. And that’s why we are raising defence investment to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030 to deal with the increasingly uncertain world we live in.”

“This is the biggest sustained increase in the defence budget since the end of the Cold War—and one that Keir Starmer will not match”, he added. 

“Now our increase in defence investment will not only fire up our defence industrial base, creating good jobs here at home, from Barrow to Lossiemouth, but allow us to stand up for our interests, deter our enemies and defend our values. It is only we Conservatives, with our iron resolve, who can be trusted to keep Britain safe.”

As the prime minister attends the G7 conference in Italy, the Conservative Party has renewed this attack, with defence secretary Grant Shapps accusing Keir Starmer of not being “serious” about security. 

Shapps said: “Safety at home starts with security abroad and the world is more volatile than many of us have ever known. The Labour Party’s empty promises and continued refusal to back any of our defence commitments are deeply concerning. It signals that Starmer is not serious about security.

“There is only one party which will make sure Britain becomes safer, and the world more stable. The choice between the two on such an important issue is clear as day.”

Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, said: “Red lights are flashing on the global dashboard. The world today is more dangerous, more volatile than many of us have ever known. And what happens abroad matters here at home.

“In a time of danger and insecurity, Rishi Sunak and I are clear that we must adopt a harder edge for a tougher world. We can determine our own destiny if we have the courage to act – and we have demonstrated that courage.

“Labour has shown us no plan or vision for how Britain should face up to a more confrontational, contested world. Only the Conservatives have a clear plan for leadership in the world that helps to build a more secure future.”

Responding to Cameron and Shapps’ comments, a Labour spokesperson said: “This changed Labour Party knows that our nation’s defence must always come first.

“But it’s the Conservatives who have failed our forces for 14 years, with the Army at its smallest size since Napoleon, a recruitment crisis, morale at record lows, and over £15 billion wasted in bad defence procurement. Our Armed Forces can’t afford five more years of the Tories.

“It’s time for change with Labour. We will ensure Britain is better defended.”

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