The Ministry of Defence has been awarded a £24bn cash increase over the next four years in what prime minister Boris Johnson said represented “the biggest programme of investment in British defence since the end of the Cold War”.
The deal, which adds £16.5bn of the Conservative party manifesto pledge to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation, will end the era of cutting defence spending, Johnson said.
The plan includes a commitment to boost the UK’s cyber-defence capability, with the government creating both a new agency dedicated to artificial intelligence and a National Cyber Force, combining officials from the UK’s security and military services. The government is also developing a new Royal Air Force Space Command, capable of launching its first rocket in 2022.
These projects are expected to create up to 10,000 jobs a year across the UK and will boost skills in construction and science as well as in the armed forces.
Johnson said he had “taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first”.
He added: “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.”
The cash plan will confirm the UK’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO behind the United States.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the deal “provides us with the financial certainty we need to modernise, plan for the future and adapt to the threats we face”.
He added: “This settlement secures UK jobs and livelihoods, allows us to invest in our fantastic shipyards and aerospace industry, spreading prosperity to every corner of the UK.
“Next year represents a huge opportunity for this country, and defence will be at the forefront of creating the jobs and business opportunities that will help us build back from the pandemic.”
The MoD said the agreement represents the first outcome from the integrated review of the UK’s foreign, defence, development and security policy. The full conclusions of the review, which was paused this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be announced in the new year.
Responding to the prime minister, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the review's delay made the deal “a spending announcement without a strategy”.
He added: “This is a time of huge global uncertainty is time for Britain to emerge from a decade of restraint. I know the prime minister is always keen to talk about the bits of government he enjoys – big announcements, space programme, moonshots. But this statement shows the government still lacks a clear strategy or a coherent vision for Britain in the world, or any idea how the promises will actually be delivered.”