David Cameron today hit back at suggestions Britain is becoming “disengaged” from the world stage as the row over defence spending continues.
America’s Defence Secretary Ashton Carter warned this morning the UK will lose its ability to “punch above its weight” on the international stage if the military budget is cut.
Mr Carter called on Britain to honour its Nato membership commitment of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokeswoman sought to play down concerns over Britain’s attitude to military spending, and said: "We will meet the 2% target in this financial year and decisions for future years are for the next spending review."
She added that the PM was “absolutely clear that the UK plays a lead role in a number of international issues”.
The Government has yet to confirm whether it would keep spending at two per cent beyond 2016.
In an interview with the BBC this morning, Mr Carter urged the British Government to maintain its military commitments.
He said: “My message to my colleagues in London, like to all the other capitals of the Nato countries, is to stick to the pledge they all made which was to, if they were below two per cent, to achieve two per cent.
“Britain has always had an independent ability to express itself and basically punch above its weight.
“I hate to see that go away because I think it’s a great loss to the world when a country of that much history and standing for so much to so many people around the world takes actions which seem to indicate disengagement.
“We need an engaged United Kingdom.”
Speaking on the BBC this afternoon, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon again refused to commit to keeping the two per cent spending levels past 2016.
He also said Mr Carter had not raised concerns over Britain's military spending with him directly.
Mr Carter’s comments were echoed by senior Tory MP Richard Benyon, who is hoping to be elected chairman of the influential Defence Select Committee.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, Mr Benyon dismissed suggestions committing spending two per cent of GDP was little more than an arbitrary figure which did not take into account the real needs of the military.
He said: “The two per cent figure is a line in the sand, a mark of how serious we are about this.
“I think it’s vital that we maintain spending at least at that level.”
Mr Benyon, who served in the Army for four years in the early 1980s, argued it would be hypocritical to insist other Nato countries meet the two per cent target if Britain did not also keep spending at that level.
He said: “I am not a knee jerk interventionist. There’s more intelligent ways of intervening than we have done in the two major conflicts since 9/11.
“I am coming at this as a person who doesn’t want to see ourselves as the world police.
“This is a more dangerous world than I have known it in my lifetime. I am saying this as someone who was in the armed forces during the Cold War.”