Theresa May has repeatedly berated other Nato countries for failing to hit the target
Theresa May was told to divert money from Britain’s foreign aid budget to the defence budget after a respected think-tank said Britain was dipping below the Nato target of 2 per cent of GDP.
Faster than expected economic growth meant expenditure on the military was equivalent to 1.98 per cent of UK plc in 2016, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Former Tory defence minister Julian Brazier urged the Government to change the definition of foreign aid so it can be spent on defence projects Britain’s Armed Forces are involved in overseas.
He also said the UK should spend more than 2 per cent of GDP on defence to reflect the growing threats against the West today.
The shortfall in spending comes despite Theresa May repeatedly berating allies for failing to hit the minimum level.
She trumpeted Britain’s commitment to the target during her visit to the White House last month – pleasing US President Donald Trump who has complained bitterly about Nato members failing to pull their weight.
The IISS unveiled the calculations in its annual Military Balance report, which comes a day before a meeting of Nato defence ministers including Sir Michael Fallon in Brussels.
However, the Ministry of Defence stressed that the figures were ‘wrong’.
A spokesman said: ‘These figures are wrong: Nato’s own figures clearly show that the UK spends over 2 per cent of its GDP on defence.
‘Our defence budget is the biggest in Europe, the second largest in Nato, and it is growing each year as we invest £178billion in new equipment and the UK steps up globally, with new ships, submarines and aircraft over the next decade.’
Launching the report, IISS director general John Chipman said: ‘In 2016, only two European Nato states – Greece and Estonia – met the aim to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence, down from four European states that met this measure in 2015.
‘The UK dipped slightly below this at 1.98 per cent, as its economy grew faster in 2016 than its defence spending.
‘Nonetheless, the UK remained the only European state in the world’s top five defence spenders in 2016.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon is due to attend a meeting of Nato ministers tomorrow
‘If all Nato European countries were in 2016 to have met this 2 per cent of GDP target, their defence spending would have needed to rise by over 40 per cent.’
Mr Brazier said the UK should increase defence spending regardless of whether the figures were correct.
He told MailOnline: ”I’m one of those who believes that we may well need to increase it beyond 2 per cent because of the threats we face in the world today.
‘Russia is resurgent, obviously there’s a problem with ISIS and growing issues in the Far East as well – China and North Korea and so on.
‘So I think that whether or not this number is correct I think we may well need to look at a higher level of defence spending.’
And calling for the foreign aid budget to be used on defence projects, Mr Brazier added: ‘I support the 0.7 per cent for foreign aid but I’ve also always thought that we need to look at the definition of that – we’re still tied by statute now to a 14-year-old definition at what counts at foreign aid and clearly helping countries with their security is an important part of aid.
‘So I wouldn’t be in favour of giving up on the 0.7 per cent target but I would be in favourite of re-visiting the definition because if you’re helping a country with its security, then that’s clearly aid.’