Labour and Tories to clash on security after Rishi Sunak makes national service announcement

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Labour and the Tories will clash over security as campaigning for the General Election enters its first full week after the Conservatives announced controversial plans to introduce national service.

In a keynote speech ahead of polling day, Sir Keir Starmer will say that “economic security, border security, and national security” will form the “bedrock” of the party manifesto.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak will be hammering his message that the Conservatives will take “bold action” to deliver “a secure future for the next generation”.

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The Tories have said that all 18-year-olds would be made to undertake a form of “mandatory” national service if they are re-elected on July 4 as part of plans.

Rishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBCRishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBC
Rishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBC

Teenagers would choose between taking a 12-month placement in the armed forces or “volunteer” work in their community one weekend a month for a year under the proposals.

Critics from across the political divide have dismissed the plans as unserious while leading military figures expressed skepticism about how they would work and suggested the money would be better spent on armed forces investment.

Sir Keir will put security at the heart of his speech on Monday as the Prime Minister seeks to draw a dividing line with Labour over the issue, following his commitment to raise defence spending to 2.5% GDP by 2030.

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“The very foundation of any good government is economic security, border security, and national security,” the Labour leader is expected to say.

“This is the foundation, the bedrock that our manifesto and our first steps will be built upon.”

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The Times reported that Labour would bring together MI5, police and Whitehall departments to carry out a 100-day review of all the threats that Britain faces, including from Russia and Iran, if it wins the election.

The so-called “security sprint” would be modelled on Britain’s response to the September 11 attacks on the US and a recent US security assessment of vulnerabilities to ­Chinese Communist Party activities, according to the paper.

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Acknowledging that some voters are still unsure of whether Labour could be trusted on national security, he is expected to say: “Whatever the polls say, I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election.

“They’re fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the ­Tories but they still have questions about us.

“Has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders and our security? My answer is yes you can — because I have changed this party. Permanently. This has been my driving mission since day one. I was determined to change Labour so that it could serve the British people.”

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden responded by saying: “It is bizarre that Sir Keir Starmer has spent the day at home resting ahead of a speech which doesn’t say anything.”

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It comes after Labour and the Tories traded insults about the party leaders on Sunday as each accused the other of absenteeism on the doorstep.

The Conservatives suggested Sir Keir lacked the “stamina” to campaign on Sunday, though pictures later emerged of him meeting voters in Brighton.

Meanwhile, Labour said the Prime Minister had been “holed up with his aides” and “hiding away in his mansion” after he returned to his Yorkshire constituency to meet local veterans on Saturday following a two-day tour of the UK.

Both shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves were on Sunday dispatched for Labour to broadcast studios, where they mocked the Tories’ national service announcement.

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“This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick, it is not a proper plan to deliver it, it doesn’t deal with the big challenges facing young people who are desperate to get the skills and qualifications they need to get good jobs, to have a home they can call their own,” Ms Kendall told Sky News.

The cabinet, including home secretary James Cleverly, have began arriving at Downing Street ahead of this afternoon's Spring Statement. (Credit: Getty Images)The cabinet, including home secretary James Cleverly, have began arriving at Downing Street ahead of this afternoon's Spring Statement. (Credit: Getty Images)
The cabinet, including home secretary James Cleverly, have began arriving at Downing Street ahead of this afternoon's Spring Statement. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted the programme was aimed at getting teenagers “out of their bubble” because too many “don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints”.

He said that nobody would be “sent to jail” for refusing to comply with the proposed scheme after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part in community work.

The Tories have said this volunteering could include organisations such as police, fire and NHS services or charities tackling loneliness and helping elderly vulnerable people.

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The announcement faced an immediate setback on Sunday after it emerged that defence minister Andrew Murrison had ruled out a restoration of “any form” of national service just three days ago.

In a parliamentary written statement on behalf of the Government, the MP said it could damage morale if “potentially unwilling” recruits were forced to serve alongside armed forces personnel.

The Tories estimate their proposed scheme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1 billion through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”.

The remaining £1.5 billion would come from funds money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key part of the levelling-up agenda which supports local charities and community groups, the party said.

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Michael PortilloMichael Portillo
Michael Portillo

But former Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo said the policy had apparently been produced “like a rabbit out of a hat”.

Speaking on GB News, he said: “Has this been prepared with the armed services? Has this been prepared with charities?

“Do we know the cost… Why does the Conservative Party always seem to stand for an enlargement of the state?”

Ex-defence chiefs including Lord West and Lord Dannatt have questioned the proposals, with the former telling the Guardian that the military needs funding rather than a “bonkers” plan to bring in untrained teenagers.

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The pitch appears to be aimed squarely at older voters and ones who may vote Reform, a party which is targeting voters on the Conservative right.

But the Prime Minister is also seeking to draw a dividing line with Labour on security and defence following his pledge to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030.

Labour has said it would meet the target when economic conditions allow.

Both leaders are understood to be hitting in battleground areas across the South East on Monday as campaigning ramps up in its first full week.

Sir Ed Davey will be north of the border launching the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign with Scottish leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.

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