So much has happened in this Budget that it’s easy to overlook one of the most important announcements: that George Osborne will, after all, fit a lock on defence spending to make sure that it stays at 2 per cent of GDP until 2020.
The Spectator has been calling for this for some time; I called for it again last week – and, to be honest, more in hope than expectation. But the Chancellor has delivered; his pledge is watertight. The MoD had thought that defence spending (as defined by Nato) was set to slip to 1.85 per cent of GDP within five years – and filling that gap would cost £3.23 billion. Osborne hasn’t given us the exact figures, but you can work them out (see graphic, above) – he has committed a cumulative £6.8bn over the course of this parliament. At a time when the axe needs to fall so hard on unprotected departments, it’s a relief to find defence spared.
And judging by this tweet from the US Ambassador to the UK, it’s a relief in Washington too…
America welcomes HMG’s commitment to 2% defense spending, proving again the indispensability of the UK to global security.
— Matthew Barzun (@MatthewBarzun) July 8, 2015
It’s odd to have this pledge given now. The government is about to embark upon a massive Strategic Defence & Security Review, and the whole idea is that you first work out what military you need then work out how much it will cost. The military had seen this review as a chance to campaign for 2pc spending commitment.
Giving the defence pledge now will be, in part, a ruse to assuage those who’d otherwise be disconcerted about the so-called ‘living wage’ and the extra unemployment that’s it’s bound to cause. There’s plenty lefty stuff in the Budget, so this righty stuff helps keep everyone happy. But I had pretty much given up hope on a decent settlement for defence in the Spending Review due in the autumn. Now, it really does seem secure.