Boris Johnson to end ‘era of retreat’ with £24bn Armed Forces spending pledge

Boris Johnson has promised "an end to the era of retreat" for Britain’s Armed Forces with a £24 billion spending increase that marks the biggest financial boost since the Cold War.

The Prime Minister pledged to restore the Royal Navy to its position as Europe’s most powerful maritime force and will invest heavily in drones, cyber warfare and space programmes.

Mr Johnson said he had made the decision "in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first".

Downing Street said 40,000 jobs would be created over the course of the four-year settlement, which gives the Armed Forces an extra £16.5 billion. That is on top of the 2019 manifesto pledge to increase spending by 0.5 per cent above inflation every year.

It means the Prime Minister and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, have won a lengthy battle with the Treasury to release the funds despite hundreds of billions being spent on the coronavirus response.

With increasing threats from China and Russia, Mr Johnson said Britain must "stand alongside our allies" in a phrase that appeared fashioned for the ears of US president-elect Joe Biden. The extra money will cement Britain’s place as Europe’s biggest spender on defence and the second biggest in Nato after the US.

HMS Tamar, pictured conducting training exercises, will be deployed on lengthy missions around the globe as part of the Navy's Forward Presence programme

Credit: LPhot Alex Ceolin/Royal Navy 

Mr Johnson said: "The international situation is more perilous and more intensely competitive than at any time since the Cold War, and Britain must be true to our history and stand alongside our allies. To achieve this we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board.

"This is our chance to end the era of retreat, transform our Armed Forces, bolster our global influence, unite and level up our country, pioneer new technology and defend our people and way of life."

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, will confirm in next week’s Spending Review that he has ring-fenced money for defence for the next four years, despite the majority of departments being given single-year settlements instead of the three-year deals originally planned.

The extra money amounts to an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent on the current annual budget of £41.5 billion, the biggest rise for more than 30 years.

The Royal Navy is one of the biggest winners in the settlement, which will enable it to place orders for 13 frigates as well as committing to the next generation of frigates, the Type 32, plus a new multi-role research vessel and replacement support ships for its aircraft carriers.

New Navy vessels

Mr Johnson said it would lead to "a renaissance of shipbuilding across the UK", with thousands of jobs created in Glasgow, Rosyth, Belfast, Appledore and Birkenhead.

The Prime Minister hopes that creating shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde and the Firth will "light up the benefits of the Union in gleaming steel" in a week that saw him criticised for describing devolution as a "disaster".

Although the Navy will have fewer vessels than France – around 80 at any one time – its total tonnage will be greater, defence sources said, as well as being more advanced, making it the most potent in Europe.

The announcement comes ahead of the Integrated Review of the UK’s foreign, defence, development and security policy, which is now expected in January.

Mr Johnson will tell the Commons on Thursday that the extra money will mean a "generational modernisation programme" of the Armed Forces.

He will announce investments in defence against cyber warfare, in which enemies hack into computers and communications systems, as well as a new agency dedicated to Artificial Intelligence, the creation of a National Cyber Force and a new Space Command capable of launching its first rocket in 2022.

Extra spending on technology was a policy championed by Mr Johnson’’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who resigned last week. Mr Cummings also wanted to reform procurement of traditional weapons, but appears to have lost that fight before his departure from Number 10.

Mr Wallace described the settlement as "excellent news". For the first time, the Government has committed to building a new generation of frigates, classed as Type 32, and Mr Johnson said: "If there is one policy which strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is building more ships for the Royal Navy.

"Our extra defence spending will restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe."

HMS Tamar conducts exercises at sea with the Royal Marines

Credit: Royal Navy

Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, told The Telegraph: "This is really good news – it’s what I’ve been banging on about for a long time. It reflects that there has been a sensible view that we need a maritime strategy, that the sea and oceans are important for us in terms of trade and security and that the wealth of our nation depends on it.

"If you want to conduct operations anywhere in the world, you need maritime forces to do so. This move towards a proper shipbuilding strategy recognises that such a strategy is important to our maritime navy."

Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, said: "It’s a testament to the strength of the case put by the Ministry of Defence and others that the Government has been prepared to invest what they tell us an additional £16 billion over and above the manifesto commitment to defence."

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