As the UK hurtles towards the end of its transition period with the European Union, conventional wisdom has been that the country will see its presence on the world stage diminish as it will no longer be a major player in the EU.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement in Parliament today that Britain will be increasing its defence budget by some £4 billion per year for the next four years may change that conventional wisdom.
The four year deal will “end the era of retreat, transform our armed forces and bolster our global influence”, Johnson said.
The move will “extend British influence,” Johnson said. He was speaking via video link from his flat at 10 Downing Street as he was in isolation thanks to having been in contact with someone who had caught the coronavirus.
The increase represents the biggest programme of investment in British defence since the end of the Cold War.
The total amount of about £16.5 billion in new funding represents an increase to the Ministry of Defence annual budget of £41 billion of about 10 percent to more than £52 billion in four years.
When combined with previously announced increases, the amount actually represents an overall cash increase of £24.1 billion over four years compared to last year’s budget, according to Gov.UK.
The move would also safeguard jobs in areas such as ship building and protect livelihoods, the Prime Minister said.
Johnson said he had made the decision” in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first.”
“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,” the Prime minister said.
“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,” he said.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer came out in support of the move, but questioned what it would mean for Britain’s commitment to overseas aid, which currently stands at 0.7 percent of GNP.
But Johnson assured that he was proud of the ‘leadership’role that Britian plays in overseas development aid, and that it would be unaffected by the increase in spend on defence budget.
But the good news for the defence department could be anything but for other government departments, and where the money will be coming from is still not clear.
“The commitment will allow the Government to invest in cutting-edge technology, positioning the UK as a global leader in domains such as cyber and space and addressing weaknesses in our defence arsenal that cannot be allowed to continue,” Gov.UK said.
“To support these advancements the Prime Minister will also announce a new agency dedicated to Artificial Intelligence, the creation of a National Cyber Force to protect our people from harm and a new ‘Space Command’, capable of launching our first rocket in 2022.