A key part of Theresa May’s strategy for wooing Donald Trump was making it clear that Britain was pulling its weight with funding Nato, with the PM calling on other countries to match the two per cent of GDP that Britain spent on defence so ‘that the burden is more fairly shared’. The report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies that the UK had, in fact, missed this target was potentially explosive then – and it’s no surprise the MoD stepped in quickly to bat away the claims. But whether too much or too little, the amount of money spent on military matters is the talking point in many of the newspapers this morning.
The Sun says it’s clear that if ‘Global Britain’ is to ‘succeed’, the country must not step away from its military commitments. The ‘steady reduction in UK troop numbers’ is a worry, while claims made by former general Sir Richard Barrons that cost cutting had eaten away at our defence was another cause of concern. The paper also says that after Theresa May ‘berated’ other European leaders for failing to pull their weight, it’s obvious that Donald Trump ‘won’t take kindly to Britain’s contribution falling’. Amidst threats coming from several directions – Russia, IS, and North Korea – ‘now is not the time to weaken our defences,’ the paper concludes.
The Daily Telegraph backs up this call for Britain to commit more fully to spending on defence. The MoD said that the IISS think tank had calculated a shortfall because of a mistake in the way they had tallied up the figures. Yet for the Telegraph this is a ‘largely specious’ argument. ‘What matters,’ says the paper, is not quibbling about statistics but ensuring that Europe remains ‘adequately defended’ from outside threats. While Donald Trump has been criticised for many things, he is right on one important matter: the disproportionate burden placed on the US for propping up Nato. It’s high time the UK realised this and makes sure that it forks out its ‘proper share’.
The Daily Mail says it doesn’t want to take sides in this latest row about defence spending, but it goes on to back up the Telegraph’s argument in making it clear we shouldn’t be ‘squabbling’ about statistics. The Government might have rejected claims of a shortfall in defence spending, but their response made it clear that Britain is only matching the two per cent target. Is this good enough, asks the Mail? After all, surely what matters is that the UK ‘should spend enough to protect us from attack’. The Government must remember: ‘If they neglect defence, they risk everything’.
Meanwhile, in the Times, it’s the Government’s upcoming changes to business rates which come in for criticism. A number of high street retailers and restaurant chains spoke out yesterday to say the planned hike in rates would leave them far worse off. And as the Times points out today, ‘some will go out of business altogether’. Yet there is a type of business who won’t be affected by the changes: internet retailers ‘that occupy cheap land and do much of their business online’ are unlikely to ‘feel the pinch’ says the Times. This is ‘nonsensical’, the paper argues, and the idea that business rates should be set based on what the Government thinks renting a company’s premises would cost is a flawed approach. The Times points out that the likes of Amazon – which hit £5.3bn worth of sales in Britain last year – will actually see its bill tumble. Meanwhile, smaller companies are warning that their rates could rise by as much as 500 per cent. It’s time to shake up this outdated approach, the paper says, saying that focusing purely on rental value and ‘ignoring a company’s actual size, profitability and ability to generate cash, is misguided’. But is Theresa May’s Government bold enough to make these badly needed changes?