UK Politics

Nato 2% defence spending target should be met, MPs say

RAF Tornado Image copyright Ministry of Defence

MPs have approved a backbench motion calling for the UK to spend at least 2% of national income on defence.

Some Conservative backbenchers urged Prime Minister David Cameron to commit to continuing to meet the Nato target.

Just 40 MPs voted in the backbench business debate, with 37 backing the motion, and the result is not binding on the government.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne said a post-election spending review would set defence expenditure after 2016.

He told MPs: "It is not just about 2% of GDP [gross domestic product]. It is about how you spend it and what you are prepared to do with it."

'Symbolic value'

Mr Cameron is under pressure from some Conservatives and retired generals over the target that Nato member states should each spend a minimum of 2% of their national income - or GDP - on defence.

Few countries have met this target, so, at the Nato summit last September, the commitment was watered down, with the less ambitious goal that those countries that were not meeting the target should "halt any decline in defence expenditure" .

Opening the Commons debate, Conservative MP John Baron said while the 2% target was an "arbitrary figure" it did have "symbolic value".

"Having lectured other Nato members as to its importance, we ourselves should lead by example," he said.

"In short, we need to rediscover the political will for strong defence."

'Meeting obligations'

Rory Stewart, the Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said at least 2% of GDP needed to be spent on defence, because the world had "changed fundamentally" since previous defence planning, which had been "bypassed by events".

Former Lib Dem defence minister Sir Nick Harvey said the government had made "unpalatable" decisions such as axing the Harrier jump jet during a "quick and dirty" review of defence spending, in the understanding "sunny uplands" and increased budgets would follow.

Labour's shadow defence minister, Kevan Jones, would not commit his party to meeting the target when challenged by Mr Gray, saying: "We will not be dishonest."

Speaking on a visit to BAE Systems in Lancashire, Mr Cameron said the UK was currently meeting the 2% target.

He added: "The right time to fix the defence budget will be at the next spending review but, as I say, Britain is meeting all of its obligations."

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