Q: Why are you cutting 9,500 troops and breaking the manifesto pledge to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation?
Johnson says Nato the amounts the UK is spending on defence. Defence spending has gone up by £24bn.
The UK is well over the 2% (of GDP) defence spending target, he says. It will get to 2.5% by the end of the decade.
The Scottish government has said it has reluctantly agreed to allow its budgets to be used towards funding extra military aid for Ukraine, after UK ministers asked the devolved government to contribute £65m towards the new £1bn fund.
Kate Forbes, the Scottish finance and economy secretary, said:
This further funding is to assist Ukrainian armed forces to fight Russian aggression and the unspeakable brutality being perpetrated.
We have agreed to providing funding on this occasion given the clear need to maximise the international effort to support Ukraine. However, we are clear that this must not be seen as any kind of precedent which leads to devolved budgets being used to help pay for clearly reserved policy areas.
The Welsh government also expressed reservations about this request, and said it too had reluctantly agreed because of the significance of the crisis. (See 2.27pm.) Nicola Sturgeon’s chief spokesman said today it was worried that ministers in London may feel other devolved funds could be raided in future to fund UK-level policies normally paid for by the UK government. He said:
We don’t want this to be the thin end of a wedge which you’ll regularly or semi-regularly sees devolved budgets used for clearly reserved matters because Scotland clearly doesn’t receive funding for foreign affairs and defence, but devolved Scottish funding is being used for foreign affairs and defence. So it’s, I don’t think it’s ever happened. We regard it as a one off.
The government said the chief secretary to the Treasury asked devolved authorities and all the UK’s government departments to either offer up a contribution or to take a reduction in the consequentials provided as part of the block grant from the UK government. The Scottish government said it took £65m from its own capital reserves, carried forward from last year’s budget.
The Future of Britain conference, organised by Tony Blair as part of the Britain Project, his initiative to champion progressive, cross-party, centrist politics, has just finished. At one point there were suspicions that it was the springboard for the launch of a new Macron-style party, but in the end the speaker list was relatively second division and in a Q&A at the end of the day Blair said he did not expect the two-party model of British politics to change. But he did offer some advice to Keir Starmer, as well as declaring that he would be touting his centrist policy agenda to anyone interested. Here are the main points.
- Blair said that it would be vital for Labour at the next election to assure people who might not vote for the party that it would be a safe alternative. Referring to the Lib Dem victory in the Tiverton and Honiton byelection last week, Blair said at the next election Labour needed those voters to stick with the Lib Dems. And that meant they had to be comfortable with the idea of a Labour government. He went on:
Those people have got to be comfortable with the prospect of a Labour government. Doesn’t mean to say they’re all going to vote Labour, I’m not saying that …
One of the things that I always used to try and do when I was leader of the opposition was, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to make that journey [to backing Labour]. For Labour, the big challenge is when people come to what is always a big decision for a country, to change its government, people have got to think: ‘You know, I think the other lot deserve to be put out. And these guys are a safe alternative.’
- He said Keir Starmer had done “an amazing job” in pulling Labour back from where it was in 2019. When it was put to him that Labour modernisation still had a long way to go, and that it was at the 1989 stage on the (1979-97) route to power, Blair said he he thought the party had progressed “a lot further” than that. He also said Starmer’s starting point was worse than his. Blair said: “To be fair to Keir, I took the Labour party over after Neil Kinnock and John Smith. He’s had a tougher time of it, mentioning no names. So I think he’s done an immense job in taking it this far.”
- But Blair said Labour needed a clearer policy agenda. He said:
The fact is, for Labour to win the next election, it’s got to have a policy agenda that’s absolutely clear.
Now, it has done a huge amount of work. But for Labour, if it wants to seal the deal with the British people, then I think it’s going to be all about policy and expressing through policy the fact that this is a Labour party prepared to reach out beyond its traditional base and pull in people who may be voting Liberal Democrat, some people may be soft Tories.
- He said he hoped the Labour party would adopt the policies promoted by his thinktank. Asked why he did not set up his own party, he said Britain had a system with two main parties, and he did not see that changing. But he went on:
But let me tell you, from the point of view of the Labour party, my political party, I hope they take this agenda.
We published the paper on the health service yesterday, we’ve got one on education coming, another on asylum and immigration. I want to build a strong policy agenda. And then it’s there for reasonable people – whether they’re Conservative party, Labour party, the Lib Dems whatever – to take it up.
The Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who chairs parliament’s intelligence and security committee, has described Boris Johnson promise to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030 as “feeble”. Lewis accused Johnson of “an inability or unwillingness to face up to the gravity of the current crisis”.
Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, stunned a rugby league audience by confusing the 13-player game with the rival code, PA Media reports.
The Labour MP Mike Amesbury has announced he has resigned as a shadow local government minister. In his resignation letter, Amesbury, who represents Weaver Vale in Cheshire, which he held with a majority of just 562 at the last election, says he wants to be able to devote more time to representing his constituents. He says:
As inflation bites, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with all whose only ask is a fair deal for them and their families. I intend to provide this support and voice from the back benches …
I secured my marginal seat from the Tories in 2017 and retained it in very challenging circumstances in 2019. At both elections I promised that I would put my constituents first. I believe that if I am to continue to do so, I am not able to give the role of shadow local government minister the energy it demands and deserves …
The combination of a decade of Tory austerity, the impact of the pandemic and now soaring living costs have all meant a sustained increase in the number of constituents needing my help.
I will now give them an even louder voice in the community and in parliament.
Amesbury does not mention the rail strike in his letter. But he expressed support for the striking rail workers last week, and the reference to standing “shoulder to shoulder” with workers asking for a fair deal may be a reference to unhappiness with Keir Starmer’s instruction to frontbenchers not to join RMT picket lines.
Labour has accused Boris Johnson of postponing “difficult decisions” about the defence budget. Responding to Johnson’s announcement that he wants it to rise to 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade, John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said:
Britain deserves better than ministers rowing in public over defence spending throughout this Nato summit. We should have seen UK leadership as Nato acts to strengthen European defences.
With war in Europe and the threats growing, Britain needs to reboot defence planning now – not duck difficult decisions until the end of the decade.
No one thinks the prime minister will be around to keep this 2030 pledge.
Labour has called for a “post 9/11” increase in defence spending, but it has not set out details.
Almost half of Britons (45%) think Brexit has made daily life worse, new polling from Ipsos Mori suggests. Fewer than one person in five (17%) thinks it has made daily life better.
Both figures have gone up quite a lot since last summer, because the proportion of people saying Brexit has made no difference has shrunk. But 34% of people are still saying its impact has been neutral.
More than a quarter of leave voters (26%) says Brexit has made their daily life better. But 22% says it has made life worse, and 48% say it has made no difference.
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the Commons defence committee, has said increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030 (see 1.52pm) is “too little too late”.
Rishi Sunak has been warned the government is running out of time to save the economy amid a rapidly worsening growth outlook and soaring inflation hitting businesses, my colleague Richard Partington reports.
This is from Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, on the government’s decision to drop clauses from the schools bill that would threaten the autonomy of academies. (See 2.10pm.)
This is a major climbdown from Nadhim Zahawi and confirms this chaotic government has no plan to drive-up standards in our schools and improve outcomes for our children.
Just days ago the schools minister was told the Commons these were important provisions. Now the government has binned them. The Conservatives are in a mess trying to rush through laws to avoid scrutiny and distract from their own incompetence.
And here is our story on the move by my colleague Richard Adams.
Tony Blair has dismissed the need for a new political party, saying Labour has “recovered” under Keir Starmer but needs a clearer sense of direction to win the next general election. My colleague Aubrey Allegretti has the story here.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, has thanked Boris Johnson for the £1bn in military aid for his country announced today.
The Welsh government has expressed concern that more than £30m is being taken out its budget to go towards the £1bn the UK is sending to Ukraine for military aid.
Rebecca Evans, the Welsh finance minister, insisted her government was determined to support the Ukrainian people and had made a “substantial contribution” to the humanitarian effort. She said:
We will continue to provide humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people, and it is right the UK should continue to provide much-needed military support.
But she said it was “novel, worrying and potentially divisive” that the Treasury was seeking to use devolved budgets to fund reserved spending areas such as military aid and defence.
She said these funds should be spent on devolved areas such as health and education, adding: “This will result in challenging decisions to be made about our limited capital budget.”
Evans went on:
Ultimately, because of the exceptional circumstances, we have accepted this situation in light of our ongoing commitment to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in their fight against this senseless act of aggression, but it should not be a precedent.