UK will give Ukraine £3bn a year ‘for as long as it takes’, says Starmer | Defence policy

The new government will stick with plans to spend at least £3bn every year on military support for Ukraine for “as long as is it takes” in its conflict with Russia, Keir Starmer has said.

After his first official bilateral talks with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, at the Nato summit in Washington, the prime minister confirmed the military aid would continue until at least 2030-31.

The UK has to date promised almost £12bn in support to Ukraine since February 2022, of which £7.1bn is for military assistance. The rest is for humanitarian and economic support.

In his talks with Zelenskiy, Starmer underscored that Ukraine was on an “irreversible” path to Nato membership. However, diplomats at the Nato summit say that setting out any firm timetable would be a gift to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

On Thursday, the prime minister will tell his fellow leaders: “Nato was founded by the generation who defeated fascism. They understood not just the value of our strength, but the strength of our values.

“Those values are under attack once again. Putin needs to hear a clear message ringing out from this summit – a message of unity and determination, that we will support Ukraine with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes to uphold our shared values and our shared security.”

Starmer met the US president, Joe Biden, for the first time at the summit. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

British officials have said that while the potential return to the White House of Donald Trump – whose commitment to Nato and Ukraine is unclear – is at the back of their minds, their focus is on getting the alliance into the best possible shape, whoever wins the US election.

Starmer has called on Nato allies to increase defence spending in response to rising global threats, including from Russia, as he launches a review setting out UK plans to spend tens of billions of pounds extra on the military.

He will tell the other 31 Nato countries that the frontline defence of the Euro-Atlantic region is the Ukrainian trenches, and that the international community cannot waver in the face of relentless Russian aggression.

One of Kyiv’s most pressing asks of Nato states has been multi-year funding, which allows it to plan its defence against Russian forces. The UK will deliver a new package of artillery and 90 Brimstone missiles in the coming weeks.

The government will launch its strategic defence review next week, but this is likely to take up to a year to complete, meaning Starmer has come under growing pressure to confirm a timetable for the UK to boost defence spending to its target of 2.5% of GDP.

However, Luke Pollard, the armed forces minister, said on Wednesday that the government would not increase spending on the military unless it was also able to grow the economy.

“The way we deliver increased public spending on defence, on schools, hospitals or prisons, is by growing our economy,” he told the BBC.

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“If we don’t grow our economy, there won’t be the money to support those public services and the ambitions that we have – and that includes defence.”

A senior No 10 source suggested that the 2.5% commitment would stand, irrespective of whether the new government hit its growth targets, and even though that would raise difficult questions over how it would be funded.

“Yes of course,” they said. “The commitment to defence is absolute. But we are also confident that we will get growth in the economy so I don’t accept that we have to wait for one, for the other.”

Downing Street was unable to confirm whether the strategic defence review would be published before the comprehensive spending review, expected this autumn, but suggested it would not take the full year.

Starmer met Joe Biden for the first time at the Nato summit’s welcome event. The pair shared a few private words as they shook hands before the cameras. Later, Starmer held his first bilateral talks with the US president at the White House.

The prime minister, a passionate football fan, gave the president an Arsenal football shirt with the name “Biden” and the number 46 on the back – a reference to his status as the 46th US president. “It’s [Starmer’s] team and [he] thought it would make a personal gift,” a senior No 10 official said.

He has previously given Emmanuel Macron, the French president, an Arsenal top as a gift. He also gave Biden a framed copy of the original Atlantic charter that led to the formation of Nato, with then Labour prime minister Clement Attlee’s amendments.

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