LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to boost Britain's defence budget with above-inflation increases on top of meeting the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (Nato) target, making security one of the focal points of her election campaign.
The Tories will commit to increase defence spending by at least 0.5 per cent above the rate of inflation every year until 2023, and meet their defence spending obligation to Nato.
"If elected on June 8, I will ensure that the UK continues to spend at least 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence and that the budget rises every year," Mrs May said in an e-mail statement.
The policy pledge will be part of the Conservative Party's manifesto, according to the statement.
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"As prime minister, I always have and always will put Britain's national security first," Mrs May said in the statement. "Under my leadership, the Conservatives will ensure that the brave men and women of our armed forces have the equipment and resources they need to keep our country safe - and that we meet our obligations to the world."
With less than a month to go before the general election, Mrs May's Tories are about 20 points ahead of the opposition Labour Party in the polls.
While her commitment to Brexit has been the focus of her campaign so far, Mrs May - a former home secretary - is also keen to put security high up on the agenda as her party prepares to publish its manifesto.
Promising to focus on national security and military spending, Mrs May criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for "wavering" over his commitment to Britain's nuclear deterrent, Nato and his support for air strikes targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Labour said years of Conservative cuts to the defence budget had left the military under-resourced, and added that the party was committed to meeting the 2 per cent target set by Nato.
In an e-mail statement, Labour defence spokesman Nia Griffith said: "The severe cuts imposed on the defence budget since 2010 have seen the army shrink to 78,000, its smallest size since the Napoleonic Wars."
"Labour is committed to spending at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence and ensuring that our armed forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of our Nato obligations, and we will continue to press other members of the alliance to do the same."
Alongside the United States, Britain is one of only five countries in the Nato military alliance which meet an obligation to spend 2 per cent of economic output on defence - something Mrs May has used to curry favour with United States President Donald Trump.