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Jeremy Hunt Right to Prioritise Defence By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






As we see evidenced from differing opinions being expressed today in Japan at the G20 Summit World and even the possibility of a final communiqué being signed perhaps by some and not all delegate member countries, the world is changing meaning that we can no longer rely on the old order to maintain the peace that we have taken for granted for so long.

Those words are mine but they could just as easily have come from Tory Party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt who, in my view, undoubtedly understands the need for Britain to have strong defence. He is after all Foreign Secretary and one who commands universal respect by his peers.

Unlike the other leadership contender Boris Johnson who I might add has yet to make a single mention of his views about defence, Jeremy Hunt has made perfectly clear that if he was to become Prime Minister he would work toward ensuring that the UK raises the amount that it spends on defence from a current 2% to 2.5% by the middle of the next decade.

We are grateful for that and for the knowledge that he understands why UK defence needs to be strengthened. defence there is one. Against the suggestions of commentators and respected former senior members of the military who call for defence spending to rise above 3%, raising spending to 2.5% is not a massive amount. But it is start and Mr. Hunt is the first senior conservative politician to specify why he believes we need to spend more on defence now.

Raising national expenditure on defence by £15 billion over a period of time may sound a huge amount but the reality is that in my view this would only just cover the shortfall that we as a nation, one that rightly seeks to remain a first rank military power, need to spend just to stand still. In the increasingly uncertain world that we live in and where our would-be adversaries are challenging us to see how prepared we are, standing still is no longer an option.

We must, as Mr. Hunt suggests, strengthen our defence capability just as we must also work hard to ensure that NATO is not allowed to be weakened by changes in world order.  

Announcing his views on defence Mr. Hunt said that the extra money would allow Britain to play a leading role deterring Russian activity on Europe’s shores adding that “I was the person who secured a historic funding boost for the NHS and as Prime Minister I’ll do the same for defence. Increasing defence spending by 25% over five years will show the world a self-confident country ready to defend its interests and values”, he said “as we embark on an exciting post-Brexit future. Everyone knows Britain is a world leading soft power” he said “but to be credible we need to show that we are determined to remain a first rank military power. My plan for defence will give our brave troops the backing they need and show the world that when it comes to the new threats to Western values, Britain is back and Britain’s voice will be strong.”

I venture to suggest that few reading this piece from me today will disagree the need to both increase spending on defence and to better prioritise defence in terms national importance. We should never have allowed defence to fall so far down the agenda and we must all work hard to raise the its vital importance and mantra.       

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who is backing Mr Hunt in the Tory leadership contest against Boris Johnson, welcomed the announcement. She said: “We must give the men and women of our Armed Forces what they need to do the job we ask of them. Jeremy’s clear commitment to do that is one reason why he has my support.”

I remain unsure in respect of Mr. Johnson’s position on defence but that he has failed to mention the most important aspect of government – defence of the realm – gives me little confidence. I note that the former Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson who at the very least deserves praise for challenging the Treasury and Cabinet Office is backing Mr. Johnson but even that is not enough to convince me that as a potential future Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson will get the message of importance of defence and need to prioritise this above all else as we move into the post Brexit period. I am not going to hold my breath!    

Below you will find charts showing defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP between 1955 and 2014. I hope that these come out as well on the email copy that I send but if not please let me know and I will send them to you in word attachment.

I was able to add the figures for the 2015 to 2018 period these would essentially show that spending had remained flat to very slightly increased. The comparison against spending on health and welfare is, I am sure you will agree, striking:

Defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP, 1955–2014


Defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP, 1955–2014


Health (NHS) expenditure as a percentage of GDP, 1955–2014

Welfare expenditure as a percentage of GDP, 1955–2014




Education expenditure as a percentage of GDP, 1955–2014


Sources: HM Treasury, British Historical Statistics, UK Defence Statistics, Office of National Statistics     

(Commentary will return on Monday July 1st)  

CHW (London – 27th June 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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