The government must secure the UK’s position as the leading European nation in NATO and halt further cuts to the army, Labour’s shadow defence secretary will say.
John Healey will also call on Rishi Sunak to crank up British industry to produce weapons and ammunition to replenish the military’s own depleted stockpiles and to keep arming Ukraine.
“The next government will inherit the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s wider aggression,” he will say in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London on Tuesday.
“With a general election, there may be a change to Labour but there will be no change to Britain’s resolve in confronting Russia’s threats, pursuing [Vladimir] Putin’s crimes and standing with Ukraine,” he will say, according to excerpts of the speech released in advance.
The comments came after Sky News revealed that the Treasury has signalled there is no new money for the armed forces despite recognising the urgent need to rearm in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
Defence sources also warned that Britain – following decades of defence cuts that have hollowed out the military – will be unable “credibly” to offer as many troops as NATO allies would expect to a major new force structure that is being drawn up by the alliance to bolster its defences in response to the war in Ukraine.
Outlining steps he believed the government needed to take to protect the UK, Mr Healey said the government must give the highest priority to security in Europe, the Atlantic and the Arctic, ensuring NATO commitments are met.
He will say that Labour in government would conduct a “NATO test” during its first 100 days to ensure Britain is on track to meet its commitments to the alliance.
This should include halting any further cuts to the army.
Under current plans the army is due to shrink to 73,000 full-time soldiers from 82,000. It is currently at just under 76,000.
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But any reversal in cuts would require a significant increase in defence spending to fund not only the soldiers but also their equipment.
On replenishing stockpiles of weapons and ammunition – currently at a dangerously low level – the shadow defence secretary will call for a “stockpiles strategy” to overhaul a “wasteful peacetime procurement system” and gear up domestic industry to maintain UK military help to Ukraine and restock weapons and ammunition for the UK’s armed forces.
He will say: “We need to shift parts of our defence industry and MoD procurement onto an urgent operational footing, both to support Ukraine for the long-term and to replenish UK stocks for any future conflict.”
The comments are designed to offer advice to the government as it finalises a “refresh” of a sweeping review of defence and security policy.
The document was meant to be published on 7 March, to inform defence spending plans in the budget on 15 March.
However, defence sources have told Sky News that the release of the “refresh” could be delayed until after the budget because an initial draft failed adequately to reflect the lessons learnt from the Ukraine war, namely the need for a credible army.