Starmer in National Government mode praises Johnson

Marchers defending the NHS want more hospital beds not bombs – leading Tories are demanding 25 per cent increase in defence spending

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer sought to outbid the Tories in anti-Russian war rhetoric when he was interviewed on BBC TV yesterday morning.

Claiming that it was his duty as leader of the Opposition to show unity with the Tory government, Starmer said: ‘Putin wants to see division, he wants to see Ukraine’s allies divided, he wants to see NATO divided, he wants to see a division between the political parties here in the United Kingdom.

‘And that’s why we as the Labour Party, as the Opposition, on the principle of standing up for Ukraine against Russian aggression, we stand as one in the United Kingdom on that issue.’

Rather than expressing any concerns over the cost of living crisis facing millions of families in the UK, Starmer joined Tory grandee Lord Frost and former defence secretary Michael Fallon, who made the call over the weekend for a 25% increase in defence spending.

He said: ‘We’ve been critical of the government for cutting back our army by 10,000 soldiers. They were wrong to do that. We’ve said we wouldn’t have done that.

‘On the government benches there’s a growing sense that there’s got to be a review by the government of its defence policy, its strategy and its funding and I think that’s true.’

He was asked: ‘But what would you do? The government has already spent £40 billion last year on defence and added another £16-and-a-half billion to that over the next four years. How much more would you spend?’

Making it clear that he wouldn’t stint, Starmer replied: ‘We’ve said that we wouldn’t be making the cuts that the government is currently making. But in the middle of conflict, we have to focus on the job in hand which is supporting Ukraine and ensuring that Putin is defeated.

‘But in the aftermath, of course there is going to have to be a review across Parliament about spending, about priorities, about strategy in relation to defence.’

Questioned as to whether he is letting Johnson off the hook over ‘partygate’, Starmer was asked: ‘Until very recently you were calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Do you now withdraw that call for him to resign?’

He replied: ‘It does seem a long time ago now that we were talking about all the allegations the Prime Minister is facing and he is still being investigated by the Metropolitan Police and I do think this is an issue of trust.

‘But I do think, as the leader of the Labour Party, that when it comes to standing up to Russian aggression and standing in support of Ukraine, it’s very important in the United Kingdom and in our politics that we show the world that we are united.

‘And therefore, whatever challenges and frustrations and criticism that I have of the Prime Minister, and I’ve got many, on this issue there is unity and it’s very important that we demonstrate that unity.’

He concluded: ‘At the moment the Prime Minister is obviously concentrating on the job in hand and we stand united as the United Kingdom on that issue.’

• See editorial