The Telegraph 2024-04-24 01:00:28

War footing as Sunak ramps up defence spending

Rishi Sunak said he would put Britain’s defence industry “on a war footing” as he unveiled the biggest boost to military spending in a generation.

Speaking during a visit to Poland, the Prime Minister unveiled £75 billion in new funding that will take the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of national wealth – or £87 billion a year – by the start of 2030.

Mr Sunak announced that £10 billion would be used to “put the UK’s own defence industry on a war footing” and “hugely ramp up” domestic weapons production.

He said the plan, which will make Britain “by far the largest defence power in Europe”, would serve to “show our enemies that we are resolute and determined”.

The Prime Minister also committed to matching this year’s £3 billion of military support for Ukraine every year until at least the end of the decade.

It comes after the US Congress finally cleared a long-delayed $95 billion foreign aid package, largely for Ukraine.

Mr Sunak’s announcement was welcomed by Nato, and the Prime Minister – who will hold talks with Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, on Wednesday – challenged other European countries to match Britain’s commitment.

He said that if all Nato nations increased their spending to 2.5 per cent, the alliance’s collective budget would increase by more than £140 billion a year.

“I believe we will look back on this moment as a similar turning point in European security,” he said in the speech alongside Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary-general. “And I’m confident that, whether in months or years, others will follow, too.”

Mr Stoltenberg praised Mr Sunak’s decision to increase defence spending and, in a pointed challenge to other nations, said Britain was “leading the way” in Europe.

How the extra money for defence could be spent

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The Prime Minister insisted that “we’re not on the brink of war” and said the UK was not seeking confrontation by boosting its Armed Forces.

But he warned: “In a world of increasing threats, we must show our enemies that we are resolute and determined, that their attempts to destabilise our world or redraw its borders by force will fail.

“That, with our friends and allies, we will be at the forefront of the defence of the free, democratic world, and under my leadership the United Kingdom will always stand up for our interests, deter our enemies and defend our values.”

Earlier in the speech, the Prime Minister quoted Sir Winston Churchill, saying:  “As Churchill said in 1934, ‘to urge the preparation of defence is not to assert the imminence of war. On the contrary, if war were imminent, preparations for defence would be too late’.”

Writing for The Telegraph, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the Chief of the Defence Staff, welcomed the announcement, saying it showed that “Britain has lost none of her famous resolve”.

Evoking the memory of D-Day, he added: “In all the great conflicts of the 20th century, Britain prevailed because we understood what was at stake. That is no less important a precondition for success in the 21st century.”

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Sunak warned that hostile states were “increasingly acting together” so they could cause “more instability, more quickly, in more places at once”.

Iran and North Korea have supported Russia’s war in Ukraine by supplying it with drones and ammunition, while China has propped up Moscow’s economy.

Iranian proxies including Hamas and Hezbollah have been at the forefront of attacks on Israel and vessels linked to its allies in the Red Sea.

And, against the backdrop of a possible second Donald Trump presidency, Mr Sunak said Europe “cannot keep expecting America to pay any price or bear any burden if we ourselves are unwilling to make greater sacrifices for our own security”.

In February, Mr Trump claimed he would let Russia do “whatever the hell they want” to Nato members that failed to hit the alliance’s spending target of 2 per cent of GDP.

The additional money announced by Mr Sunak will be used to nearly double annual spending on arms production, with a focus on hypersonic missiles, lasers, anti-tank rockets and artillery shells.

A new Defence Innovation Agency, modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will also be set up to develop weapons.

Defence spending will ratchet up over the next six years, from £64.6 billion this year to £87.1 billion in 2030-31, rising from just over 2.3 per cent of GDP at present to 2.5 per cent. 

Officials said the annual increase would partly be funded by plans to cut the Civil Service to pre-Brexit levels, saving £2.9 billion.

Mr Sunak had been under growing pressure from Tory MPs to increase defence spending amid concerns about Britain’s readiness for war, among them Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the Commons.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday won widespread praise in the Conservative ranks, including from those who had previously been critical of his record on Armed Forces funding.

Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary – who has called for Britain to spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence – said the spending uplift would “make the United Kingdom the arsenal of European democracy”.

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Wallace said: “This increase in our defence budget is the best step Britain can take to prevent future conflict.”

Mr Sunak said the budget uplift was fully funded, meaning it would not need to be paid for with tax rises or spending cuts elsewhere.

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France accused of ‘irresponsible’ actions after Channel migrants die

France has come under fire for allowing a migrant boat on which five people were crushed to death to continue its journey across the Channel to Britain.

French police permitted the flimsy dinghy, crammed with an unprecedented 112 migrants, to leave the Plage des Allemands beach at Wimereux, near Boulogne, at 6am on Tuesday. The scene was witnessed by a BBC reporter.

A seven-year-old girl, a woman and three men died in a crush on the heavily laden boat after panic broke out when the engine cut out several hundred yards from the shore, police said.

Forty-eight of the migrants were taken to the shore by France, but 58 remained on board after refusing to leave the boat and were allowed to continue their journey to Britain, escorted by a French navy ship.

The French approach led to a backlash on Tuesday. Tim Loughton, a former minister and a member of the home affairs committee, said: “This is incredibly irresponsible behaviour by the French authorities on so many levels after another avoidable tragedy.”

He said France should not have allowed such an overloaded dinghy to leave the beach and should have impounded it and brought all the migrants ashore when they discovered the tragedy at sea.

“Why was the whole boat and passengers not impounded as a potential crime scene with dead bodies on board?” he asked.

Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, said she was “deeply saddened” by the loss but that there needed to be a new comprehensive UK-French agreement across the Channel to intercept boats and take them back to the French coast.

“It is irresponsible to allow people to set off in these dangerous, unsafe boats,” she added.

The deaths came hours after Parliament finally passed Rishi Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Bill into law, paving the way for the first deportation flights aimed at deterring the Channel crossings.

On Monday, Home Office figures showed that the number of migrants arriving by small boats across the Channel had increased by 24 per cent to 6,265 in the first four months of this year, compared with 5,049 last year.

Mr Sunak said that criminal gangs were exploiting the vulnerable and “packing more and more people into these unseaworthy dinghies”.

Border Force officials said that French police were seizing more boats before they reached the sea, which meant smugglers were cramming more migrants on boats.

During Monday night, French police officers had intercepted two boats, two fuel cans, two engines and life jackets before they could be used to put migrants to sea.

The number of migrants on small boats have doubled in the past two years to an average of between 50 and 60 – with a few carrying as many as 80.

Andrew Harding, the BBC reporter who witnessed the dinghy leaving, said: “Once the migrants had boarded the inflatable boat they’d been dragging across the sand, the police made no further attempt to stop them.”

The French authorities’ interpretation of maritime law means that they will not stop or turn back the migrants at sea unless the asylum seekers request assistance because of the risk to life if they try to intervene.

Jacques Billant, the prefect of Pas-de-Calais, said the 58 migrants had remained on the boat after refusing to be rescued. “They managed to restart the engine and decided to continue their sea route towards Great Britain under the surveillance of the French Navy,” he said.

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The four-bedroom property Angela Rayner bought after selling council house

Angela Rayner purchased a four-bedroom property after she and her husband made almost £200,000 selling their former council houses.

The couple appear to have made about £182,500 after selling two homes they owned in the Stockport area of Greater Manchester around 15 years ago.

Ms Rayner is facing scrutiny over whether she or Mark Rayner, her husband at the time, paid the right amount of capital gains tax when the two properties were sold.

Despite the couple both selling their homes, Ms Rayner was the sole owner of their new four-bedroom house, bought in 2016.

Ms Rayner sold her council house on Vicarage Road for a gain of £48,500 in March 2015 while Mr Rayner made £134,000, when he sold his in April 2016.

That same month, almost a year after Ms Rayner was elected MP, she purchased a £375,000 property in her new constituency of Ashton-under-Lyne.

The four-bedroom red brick house has three reception rooms, a large secluded garden and two detached garages, according to the Rightmove listing from the time.

The deputy Labour leader sold her house in Vicarage Road for £127,500 in 2015 and, according to official Land Registry documents, bought the property in Ashton-under-Lyme.

On the same day Ms Rayner bought the house, her husband sold his Lowndes Lane home for £145,250, according to Rightmove.

However, despite Mr Rayner being listed on the electoral roll for the property from 2017 along with Ms Rayner and her son Ryan Batty, she is the only proprietor named on official documents. The couple are understood to have separated in 2020.

In 2022, Mr Rayner applied for home rights under the Family Law Act, which prevents one person from being able to sell a house and leave the other homeless.

Greater Manchester Police is investigating whether any offences were committed, and is understood to have spoken to neighbours about Ms Rayner’s living arrangements.

Ms Rayner has repeatedly insisted she has done nothing wrong, but has declined to publish details of her tax affairs. She has said she will “do the right thing and step down” if she is found to have committed a criminal offence.

The Labour Party and Greater Manchester Police have been contacted for comment.

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Clashes at St George’s Day rally in central London

Police in central London dealt with disorder ahead of a St George’s Day rally on Tuesday after a group of people forced their way through a cordon and shouted “England til’ I die”.

The event was due to begin at 3pm, but the Metropolitan Police said there had been disturbances ahead of the organised gathering.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, a Scotland Yard spokesman said: “Regrettably, officers are already dealing with disorder. There is an area allocated for this event in Richmond Terrace. This group went past it and continued up Whitehall.

“When officers formed a cordon and asked the group to turn round, they reacted by violently forcing their way through. Mounted officers intervened with horses to restore the cordon.”

Whitehall had to be closed to traffic while police dealt with the incident.

Police said a number of people had been seen wearing masks in the area, and a Section 60A order was in force in the boroughs of Lambeth and Westminster “giving officers the power to require the removal of face coverings”.

A Section 60 order, giving officers additional search powers, was in force in the same area to prevent crime and disorder, the force added.

Additional policing resources, including public order officers, were deployed in Westminster, supported by colleagues from the British Transport Police and the City of London Police.

After the incident, a group gathered outside the Ministry of Defence on Whitehall, waving St George’s Cross flags and listening to speeches including one by Tommy Robinson, who was cleared of breaching a dispersal order at court on Tuesday.

The crowd sang “England ‘til I die” and joined in with songs including Sweet Caroline and Take Me Home, Country Roads as they played over loudspeakers.

Laurence Fox, the actor turned politician, appeared on stage and said: “I want to live in a country where we celebrate the things that unite us, not divide us. I do not want to live in a country where I’m afraid to walk the streets of my capital city because the Met Police is run by the most corrupt dictator the world has ever seen.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Fox claimed the policing had been tougher than at other types of marches and protests.

He said: “I saw they got their elbows out a bit earlier when they could control the numbers, but on the other marches they can’t control the numbers so they struggle. When they get an opportunity to get their elbows out and it’s this flag flying around, they will take it.

He added: “It’s not the coppers, the rank and file, that are the problem in London. It’s [Mark] Rowley and [Sadiq] Khan. They’re causing a lot of disheartenment in this capital city. “

Mr Fox added: “It’s important that people on their national day can be proud of their nation. Our nation is done down repeatedly by every single politician and national institution, and it’s really important to celebrate what’s great about this country.”

Tommy Robinson told the crowd: “We beat the Metropolitan Police.”

Mr Robinson told the crowd: “It must be an embarrassing day for the Metropolitan Police force… it’s a very dangerous route that Sadiq Khan and Mark Rowley are taking our country down.”

One member of the crowd called Ricky, a 63-year-old from north London who did not want to give his full name, said: “It’s our national day. Why shouldn’t we be here? We have been let down by politicians. They don’t care about us. Look at all the police here, in their riot gear. They’re not like that for all the protests for Palestine.”

At one point, Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, asked the organisers of the rally whether he could speak on the main stage, but the 77-year-old was refused.

Police escorted him away from the rally, with an officer heard saying: “Come on Piers, let’s have a chat over here.”

Mr Corbyn took up a position a short distance from the crowd and spoke to people as they walked away. Several people hurled abuse at him as they walked past.

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “I’m here to support the concept of St George’s Day, and I believe it should be a national holiday.”

“I wanted to go on the stage to tell what happened to me in the High Court yesterday where I’ve been prevented from standing as London Mayor.

“They didn’t let me up. They were saying I was anti-Semitic which is insane.

“I didn’t want to make trouble so I came away.”

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Wales to drop blanket 20mph speed limits by September

Wales’s blanket 20mph speed limits will be dropped by September, its new Labour transport secretary has said.

On Tuesday, Ken Skates told the devolved Senedd parliament that local councils can start raising the limits in six months.

“We all agree 20mph works really well where it matters most – outside schools, hospitals, heavily built-up areas, where children are coming into contact with motorised vehicles,” he said.

“On certain routes, it hasn’t been appropriate. We will move swiftly at the least cost to correct that.”

Mr Skates said public consultations would start imminently, Mr Skates said, with councils handed powers to formally raise speed limits back to 30mph from the summer.

Natasha Asghar, a Welsh Conservative member of the Senedd, told the debating chamber: “I appreciate you’re speeding up the review. Nothing is changing as of today.”

Last September, Wales became the first country in the UK to reduce the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph in built-up areas.

Lowering the limit cost £34 million, according to the House of Commons’ library, with lower default speed restrictions applying to about a third of all roads in Wales.

The new limit was introduced by Lee Waters, then the Welsh transport minister, on Sept 17. Mr Waters narrowly survived a no-confidence motion tabled by the Welsh Conservatives that month, but announced that he was stepping down in March.

He conceded that there were a number of roads across Wales that should have remained at 30mph instead of being subject to his blanket speed limit.

Welsh Government data from September show that 12,975km of roads are 20mph and 980km have 30mph limits.

Phil Jones, the architect of the policy, who started work on it in 2019, was appointed by Mr Waters to review the implementation of 20mph limits earlier this year.

Motoring organisations hailed the U-turn on Tuesday. Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: “The AA and our members support targeted 20mph limits where they are needed on safety grounds, for example, outside schools, recreation grounds and residential areas with local support.

“In these circumstances, drivers understand why the limits are there so are more likely to adhere to them. The policy in Wales was well intentioned but too much of a broad-brush approach, so it is pragmatic to review it.”

Rod Dennis, the RAC’s road safety spokesman, said: “This decision will please a great many drivers in Wales, but it’s a shame so many roads that should have always remained at 30mph were unnecessarily converted to 20mph. More public money now needs to be spent changing signs back at a time when funds are already stretched.”

The motoring charity IAM RoadSmart, formerly the Institute of Advanced Motorists, welcomed the move. 

Nicholas Lyes, its director of policy and standards, said: “There’s no doubt 20mph limits have an important role on our road network but we have long argued that targeted 20mph limits with effective traffic calming measures and enforcement will produce better levels of compliance.”

The policy has been viewed as an unpopular failure that made life worse for ordinary people in Wales. More than 450,000 signed an official petition on the Welsh Government website opposing the plans.

Welsh Government officials said that about £92 million, and nine lives per year, would be saved by the introduction of the blanket lower limit.

Official estimates highlighted by Sam Rowlands, a Conservative member of the Senedd for North Wales, in 2022 said that the 20mph policy would create a “disbenefit” to the Welsh economy of about £4.5 billion over the next 30 years.

Mark Drakeford, the principality’s previous first minister, suggested in January that motorists would not be fined for breaking the new limit if they were “genuinely confused”.

A Government source said: “Labour’s blanket 20mph limits Wales have been a fiasco, but their ideological ban on road building and plans for road charging still remain in place.

“With our Plan for Drivers to stop motorists being targeted as cash cows by Left-wing councils, it’s only the Conservatives who are on the side of drivers.”

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Murdoch sues ITV and ITN over Princess of Wales farm shop video

Rupert Murdoch is suing ITV and ITN for using a video released by The Sun of the Princess of Wales at a farm shop in Windsor.

Mr Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN), which publishes the tabloid title, has filed an intellectual property claim against ITV and ITN, which produces ITV News programmes.

The claim is understood to relate to footage of the Prince and Princess of Wales at a farm shop in Windsor in March.

The footage, which was obtained exclusively by The Sun, was the first time the Princess had been seen since undergoing major abdominal surgery at a London hospital in January. The Princess has since revealed that she has been diagnosed with cancer.

The Sun is thought to be seeking a five-figure sum in compensation for alleged copyright breach after ITV News used the clip in its own coverage.

A spokesman for ITV said the channel would “strongly resist” the claim and defend itself. NGN declined to comment. ITN declined to comment.

The video, filmed by a member of the public through his car window, shows the 42-year old royal wearing a hoodie and leggings carrying shopping bags through the car park of Windsor Farm Shop.

She is accompanied by the Prince of Wales, who is also dressed down in a beige baseball cap.

The video was released amid frenzied speculation about the health of the Princess, who stayed out of the public eye while recovering from surgery.

The situation reached fever pitch after she admitted to photoshopping a photo with her children that was released to mark Mothering Sunday. 

The footage itself stirred up online rumours and conspiracy theories, including accusations that it had been taken before Christmas or even that it was faked using artificial intelligence (AI) or a body double.

Speculation was brought to an end in late March when the Princess announced she was undergoing a course of preventive chemotherapy but said: “I am going to be OK.”

She said she had been focused on sharing the diagnosis with her three young children and wanted to give the family time to process the news in private.

The decision to launch legal action marks a rare foray into the courts for a news publisher over claims of copyright infringement.

News organisations often use their rivals’ work under the fair dealing copyright exemption, which affords legal protection if the material is used for the reporting of current events and there is sufficient attribution to the original owner.

However, use can be deemed unfair if it causes the owner to lose revenues or if the amount of the original material taken is considered to be unreasonable or inappropriate.

The video used during ITV’s news coverage featured a watermark from The Sun and the channel also credited the footage to the newspaper.

NGN may argue that the broadcaster used too much of the footage, which ran almost in its entirety.

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Teenagers who daubed ‘Free Palestine’ on war memorial get community orders

Three teenagers have been given community orders after desecrating a war memorial by daubing it with the words “Free Palestine” days before Remembrance Sunday.

Adeem Ahmed and Amaan Tariq, both 18, and a 17-year-old youth who cannot be named because of his age were given six-month referral orders after admitting criminal damage on the cenotaph in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

They had been due to face a trial on the basis that the offence had been racially aggravated, but the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued the charge on evidential grounds earlier this month.

The incident, which happened on Nov 7 last year, caused such dismay in the community that it led to a police guard at the memorial around the clock.

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said: “War memorials and graves honour the memory of the Armed Forces personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those who defend the freedom we enjoy. They deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.”

‘Not a normal case of criminal damage’

The three have been sentenced to referral orders and also told to pay £140 in compensation, £85 court costs and a £26 victim surcharge. Tariq and the youth also pleaded guilty to the theft of spray cans and paintbrushes from B&M Bargains in Rochdale.

The defendants’ parents attended the hearing last November, when pleas were entered at Manchester Magistrates’ Court.

When District Judge Joanne Hirst fixed the trial date, she told the teenagers: “You have pleaded guilty to a very serious offence. Desecration of a cenotaph is not a normal case of criminal damage. War memorials are generally expected to be treated with respect.

“You might be interested to know that more than five and a half million Muslims died in the Second World War fighting for freedom. Be under no illusion that the sentence will be serious because of the serious nature of the desecration of cenotaphs.”

In a separate case in January, two 17-year-old males were sentenced to 10-month referral orders over damage to the memorial wreaths at Rochdale on Nov 6.

The pair filmed themselves during the incident and later uploaded the video to social media. They claimed they had become angry after seeing a video online of a man removing Palestinian flags from the cenotaph.

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