LONDON/BRUSSELS: Britain pledged to end the “era of retreat” by announcing a major increase in military spending, despite the coronavirus crisis pummelling the economy, as it seeks to define its post-Brexit role on the world stage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the extra spending reflected the need to upgrade military capabilities, with plans for a new space command and artificial intelligence agency.
In a speech to parliament on Thursday outlining first conclusions from a big review of foreign policy and defence, Johnson will announce an extra £16.5 billion ($22 billion) for the military over the next four years. The defence budget is now just under £42 billion a year.
The government did not set out where the money would come from at a time when the finance ministry has spent billions on trying to protect jobs during the COVID pandemic. “I have taken this decision in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first,” Johnson said in a statement.
“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.”
EU HOLDS OFF ON NO-DEAL
The European Commission is holding off on updating EU contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit amid a final push in talks with Britain to safeguard free trade from tariffs and quotas in six weeks’ time, officials said.
Britain’s standstill transition out of the European Union ends on December 31 and the estranged allies are still trying, despite missed deadlines, to clinch a last-minute deal on a new partnership to avoid trade ruptures from 2021 and keep close ties on everything from security to energy and transport.
The Netherlands, France, Belgium and Spain have asked the executive Commission — which negotiates with Britain on behalf of the 27 EU states — to update emergency plans to mitigate the worst damage if no new trade deal is put in place in time.