AN INFLUENTIAL group of MPs is demanding the government spends billions more on defence – or risk a fallout with its US allies.
Members of the defence committee have called on Theresa May to bump up the defence budget from two per cent GDP to three.
It comes amid concerns that Donald Trump was becoming increasingly frustrated by how little America’s Nato allies spend on defence.
The UK is at risk of losing its ‘influence’ with the US if it doesn’t up its defence spending, the committee concluded.
Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the group, said: ‘The government has consistently talked about increasing the UK’s commitment to Nato after our departure from the European Union.
An increased commitment, in the face of new and intensified threats, means that further investment is essential.
‘Where percentage of GDP for defence is concerned, our mantra must be: “We need three, to keep us free”. Anything less is simply rhetoric which endangers us and our allies.’
The plea comes just days after reports of a clash of heads between the prime minister and defence secretary, Gavin Williamson.
Mr Williamson has been battling the treasury for more money to be pumped into defence.
But last week it was claimed the PM asked the top Tory to ‘justify’ Britain’s status as a ‘tier one’ military power, casting doubts on whether Mrs May would green light extra cash for UK defence.
In a press conference, Mrs May said this claim was ‘not correct’.
The prime minister insisted Britain will remain a ‘leading defence nation’ but declined, when asked, to confirm that its status as a ‘tier one’ military power will be maintained.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan accused the government of ‘paying lip-service’ when it came to its defence spending.
The Labour MP added: ‘There is genuine concern that this prime minister doesn’t care about defence, and reports that she’s questioning the UK’s status as a tier-one nation only compound these fears.
‘Our navy is being shrunk and our army is at its smallest since the Napoleonic era. Quite simply, the Tories are putting national security at risk.’
The fact that the defence committee are having to make these calls show just how serious the situation is becoming. In the face of new and growing threats from hostile states, this is an extraordinary time to be hollowing out our armed forces and I wholeheartedly support the defence committee’s recommendations.”
The defence committee said it was vital the Britain remained a top-level global fighting force.
MP John Spellar, the senior Labour member on the defence committee and former armed forces minister, said: ‘This inquiry has underlined the importance of the UK-US relationship in the area of defence and security and emphasises the benefit which the UK receives as a result.
‘We have heard that there are perceptions in the US that the UK’s defence capabilities have slipped and that concerns have been raised about the UK’s ability to operate independently.
‘We need to challenge this perception and the Modernising Defence Programme is an excellent opportunity to do so.’
The last time Britain committed three per cent of GDP to defence was between 1995-1996.
The government said it is committed to spending £178bn on defence in the next decade.