Boris Johnson Has Pinned His Hopes On A Defence Spending Boost To Bring Together The Union
Boris Johnson with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Credit: PA)
Boris Johnson has promised a "renaissance in naval ship building" with jobs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in an attempt to sure up the union.
Delivering the first major defence spending plan for years, the prime minister made it clear the Royal Navy would be a key focus, promising to restore Britian's position as the foremost naval power in Europe.
Referencing the places the new ships will be built, he said: "If there is one policy that strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is building more ships for the Royal Navy."
"This will spur a renaissance of British ship building across the UK. In Glasgow, and Rosyth, Belfast, and Appledore and Birkenhead. Guaranteeing jobs and illuminating the benefits of the union in the white light of the arc welder's torch."
Investment in the Royal Navy will include multi-role research vessels and Type 32 frigates, and eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates.
Johnson said when the carriers are operational in 2023, the UK will have a Carrier Strike Group permanently available and ready to fight alongside NATO and other allies.
Next year the aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, will lead a British and allied task group in what Johnson described as "our most ambitious deployment for two decades", encompassing the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and East Asia.
He said the investment could create 40,000 jobs over a four year period and contribute to his levelling up agenda.
The heavy emphasis on the union, and the pride the UK's nations would feel in building Royal Navy ships, comes after the Prime Minister was widely criticised this week for saying former PM Tony Blair's devolution pledges had been a disaster 'north of the border'.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said it had not been a disaster, but the Scottish National Party's push for another independence referendum had been.
A government source did not deny Johnson had made the comment, but told the Guardian newspaper: “Devolution is great – but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”
The four-year spending commitment will take the defence budget to £45 billion this year.
Labour leader Keir Starmer picked up Johnson on his comment that he would end the "era of retreat" on military spending, highlighting the fact the Conservatives have been in power for ten years and spending had fallen by £8bn. He said Johnson had a "complete lack of self awareness" on the issue.
He also asked how the increased funding will be paid for, as the UK has had the sharptest economic downturn of any G7 country during the coronavirus pandemic.
Clarity is needed on whether the commitment will mean tax rises, money being taken from other departmental budgets or borrowing, Starmer suggested. If it comes from the aid budget, the Labour leader said it would lead to weakness on the global stage.
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