MINISTERS have been accused of rebranding government spending to give the impression that the UK is meeting the Nato 2 per cent of GDP target for defence spending after it emerged a fund used to help war-torn states has been included.
The row over the £1 billion-a-year conflict fund – which provides support for war-torn states and peacekeeping – comes ahead of the 8 July Budget. Tory backbenchers are concerned the UK’s defence spending will fall below the Nato target.
If it is just re-badging money, then it is not rightBernard Jenkin
New figures from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have shown that the UK is one of just five of 28 Nato member states to meet the target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence this year.
The 2.1 per cent spend in 2015 was down from 2.2 per cent last year and 2.3 per cent in 2013. The average between 2005 and 2009 was 2.4 per cent and in the late 1990s 2.5 per cent.
Ministers have come under intense pressure to commit the UK to the 2 per cent level for future years, but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon insisted on Sunday that future plans will not be disclosed until Chancellor George Osborne’s cross-government spending review in the autumn.
Ministry of Defence sources confirmed its £450 million share of the Conflict Pool was being included in the Nato calculation for the first time.
A spokesman said: “As with other Nato member states, from time to time the UK makes updates to ensure defence spending is categorised fully in accordance with Nato guidelines and what it says should be included.”
He added that even if the fund was removed the defence budget would still be above 2 per cent of GDP.
But critics accused the government of adding different funds to the defence budget to hide military cuts to the UK’s conventional forces.
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara said: “In reality defence spending in this country is plummeting and the government is desperately trying to hide this reality from the public.
“The truth is we will soon be left with a weapon of last resort [the Trident nuclear deterrent] but nothing else to actually defend these islands and fulfil obligations around the world.”
Senior Conservative backbencher Bernard Jenkin was also critical of classifying the Conflict Fund as defence spending.
He said: “If this is money that’s given to the MoD and spent by the MoD on armed forces activities and military diplomacy, then that would be alright.
“If it is just re-badging money that is spent on other things, then it’s not alright.”
Other Nato members hitting the 2 per cent target for 2015 were the United States (3.6 per cent), Greece (2.4 per cent), Poland (2.2 per cent) and Estonia (2 per cent).