Boris Johnson tonight revealed how Vladimir Putin has made more than 30 threats of nuclear war since his invasion of Ukraine – as the Prime Minister vowed to boost defence spending to counter Russia’s aggression.
At a press conference ending the NATO summit in Madrid, the PM announced the UK would be spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.
Mr Johnson insisted budgets will soar well over the alliance’s two per cent target in the coming years, as the Government ‘invests for the long term’ as a response to the threat from Russia.
The PM later revealed the extent of ‘sabre-rattling’ by Mr Putin, but warned against the West being dragged into the Russian President’s depiction of a ‘Russia versus NATO’ conflict.
Britain’s former ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, this week warned that NATO had to be ready for a nuclear strike by Russia.
Asked how many nuclear threats there had been from Mr Putin since the start of the Ukraine war, the PM told LBC Radio: ‘Well, there’s an analysis that I think has been done by somebody recently, a think tank.
‘They’re looking at about 35 mentions, or perhaps it’s a little bit more now, of that issue.’
But, speaking to the station’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast show, Mr Johnson stressed it was ‘very, very important that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be side-tracked by this kind of sabre-rattling, because fundamentally, what Putin is trying to do is to reframe this’.
‘It’s about Russia versus NATO. It’s about, you know, a stand-off of that kind,’ he added.
‘It’s not. It’s about his attack on an entirely innocent country, with conventional weapons, with artillery, bombardments with planes, shells and so on.
‘And it’s about the Ukrainians’ right to protect themselves. That is what this is about.’
At a press conference ending the NATO summit in Madrid, Boris Johnson insisted defence budgets will soar well over the alliance’s 2 per cent target in the coming years
The PM revealed how Vladimir Putin has made more than 30 threats of nuclear war since his invasion of Ukraine
The PM’s proposed hike in defence spending, to 2.5 per cent of GDP, would be equivalent to around £10billion a year extra in today’s prices by 2030 – with experts warning it might mean taxes will have to rise further to meet the commitment.
Based on Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts for the size of the economy, there will be £55.1billion additional spending over the rest of the decade.
However, Mr Johnson still faced questions over why the size of the army is being trimmed, arguing that the priority was ‘to have armed services that are brilliantly equipped’.
The PM said: ‘We need to invest for the long-term in vital capabilities like future combat air whilst simultaneously adapting to a more dangerous and more competitive world.
‘The logical conclusion of the investments on which we propose to embark, these decisions, is that we’ll reach 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.’
Mr Johnson described the NATO alliance as ‘united’ and in ‘robust health’ as the Madrid summit drew to a close.
He told a press conference: ‘The NATO alliance is plainly in robust health and getting stronger, with new members and a new purpose.
‘We can see that our work is cut out…
‘If history is any guide, then I believe that this great alliance will again be successful.’
Despite the spending commitment, Mr Johnson is on the verge of abandoning a Tory manifesto pledge.
A senior Government source has acknowledged that the 2019 promise to increase budgets by 0.5 percentage points above inflation might have to be abandoned.
The source pointed out that the public finances had been battered by Covid and inflation is set to hit 11 per cent this year.
‘The intention is always to honour manifesto commitments but they were made before £400 billion was spent coping with a global pandemic that none could have possibly foreseen,’ the source said.
Earlier this week IFS chief Paul Johnson issued a chart underlining how more money for health budgets had been found by easing back on military spending since the 1950s
The PM pictured at the NATO summit in Madrid today, as it came to a conclusion
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been cranking up demands for higher military spending to counter the threat from Russia.
He warned at a RUSI think-tank event defence can no longer exist on a ‘diet of smoke and mirrors’, pointing out that ministers had behaved like ‘corporate raiders’ for decades as they diverted money to the NHS and other services.
Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said that committing to increase spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade is ‘too little too late’.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee tweeted: ‘This is NOT the time to cut the Army by 10,000.
‘And moving to 2.5% defence spend by 2030 is too little too late.’
The PM’s full interview will be broadcast tomorrow from 7am on LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast