With two wars now raging in the northern hemisphere, Britain must increase military spending to keep pace with “epoch-defining challenges”, the chairman of Parliament’s defence committee has warned.
Robert Courts was speaking as Israel announced it had completely encircled Gaza City as it seeks to root out Hamas gunmen in the wake of the terror attacks of October 7.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues unabated in Ukraine, with recently obtained satellite images suggesting Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia to ramp up the production of weapons.
Further afield, China has made no secret of its antipathy towards Taiwan’s democratic regime, or its desire to seize control of the island in accordance with its “one China” doctrine.
Mr Courts told Express.co.uk: “There’s no two ways about it. We are in the most challenging times we have seen as a country since World War 2.
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“We’ve seen the return of industrial, mechanised warfare on the continent of Europe, something that many people thought was left behind forever.
“And that makes clear that we are going to have to spend more on defence. The reality is that we just don’t have sufficient mass to face the challenges that we have.
“We face the very real prospect of peer conflict, we have real epoch-defining challenges in the face of China and Russia, and to meet those, we are going to have to spend more.”
The amount the nation should spend should be governed by the challenge faced rather than simply an “arbitrary figure”, Mr Courts stressed.
However, referring to the percentage of GDP the government allocates to defence spending, currently set at two percent, he added: “Nonetheless, we should be moving towards three percent in any event.
“Now, the Government has recognised this and has said that they will look to move towards 2.5 percent when circumstances allow.
“But that to me seems to put the cart before the horse. The first duty of government is to defend its people, the first duty of any government is defence.
“It’s defence, that guarantees our security and our prosperity.”
He continued: “For example, the Navy protects our sea lanes, which means it protects our trade, which means it protects our prosperity.
“If you don’t have a navy of sufficient size, then you are taking risks with your prosperity.
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“So simply put Government has to consider spending much more on defence and it needs to do it now.
“We need to look to 2.5 percent And then upwards to three.”
It was crucial to take a “cold and clear-eyed look at the challenges and the threats that we face” and adjust spending accordingly, Mr Courts explained.
He said: “At this point, we have to accept it’s going to be a lot more and that’s going to mean the Government has to take difficult decisions but the reality is defence must come first.
“Whether you look at the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy or the British Army, they’re not big enough.
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“Whilst they have outstanding people and very good capabilities, they are being asked to ever more with ever less in the face of an increasingly challenging international environment.
“That is unsustainable. We need to ensure that we have capabilities that match the government’s level of ambition.”
The Government’s Integrated Review, published in 2021, sets out the Government’s proposals for defence spending in the current years, including a plan to cut the size of army personnel from 82,000 to 72,500.
Asked about the wisdom of such a move, Mr Courts said: “Again, it needs to be threat-based but the plan to cut 10,000 seems utterly counterintuitive at a time when we are asking our soldiers to do evermore.
“The reality is, however capable an aircraft, however brilliant a ship, however capable the people, none of them can be in the same in two places at once.
“So whether it’s the Army, or the Air Force, if we are to match this level of ambition, if our armed forces have to do what as a country will want to do, they need to have the resources in order to match that ambition.”
Describing his new role, in which he has replaced fellow Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, Mr Courts said: “This is without doubt one of the most important jobs in Westminster.
“I represent Witney in west Oxfordshire, which includes RAF Brize Norton, so that’s a quarter of the entire RAF based in my constituency.
“So I live and breathe on a constituency level the importance of the armed forces, in terms of kit, particularly people, and we have the amazing ability here.
“We’re very lucky as a country that we have incredibly dedicated, incredibly well-trained people who make our armed forces well respected all over the world.
“The UK armed forces are real quality and it’s our job as a committee to ensure that the whole of Government is held to account to make sure that these incredibly dedicated people have the kit and the living conditions that they deserve.
“From my perspective, this is a massive honour. It’s the ability for me to serve those who serve us.”
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