Ukraine-Russia: Scottish government says £65m ‘only’ spent amid row over ‘dividing’ funding request

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The Prime Minister said he would press Western allies to deliver on the pledge made following public lobbying by Cabinet ministers Ben Wallace and Liz Truss.

It is understood that the commitment could amount to a further £55.1bn cumulative over the rest of the decade, based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast of the size of the economy.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the NATO summit in Madrid. Photo: Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty Images

A Scottish government spokesman stressed that “any bigger increase in UK defense spending should not come at the expense of funding the Scottish budget”.

The announcement came after Scottish and Welsh ministers criticized the need to jointly provide the UK government with £95million from their devolved budgets to fund increased aid to Ukraine.

The funding will be part of a £1bn pot provided by the UK to Ukraine for state-of-the-art equipment, including sophisticated air defense systems and thousands of pieces of vital equipment for soldiers Ukrainians.

Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, whose administration provided £65m of the total, said the funding “should not be taken as setting any precedent”.

“We have become a refuge and sanctuary for displaced people from Ukraine, and we have done all we can to help those fleeing the country escape the violence,” she said in a statement.

“This additional funding is intended to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces fight against Russian aggression and the unspeakable brutality being perpetrated.

“We have agreed to provide funding on this occasion given the obvious need to maximize the international effort to support Ukraine. However, we are clear that this should not be taken as some sort of precedent leading to the use of decentralized budgets to help pay for clearly earmarked policy areas.

Asked about discussions that had taken place with the Treasury over why the Scottish Government should contribute the money, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday: ‘The UK Government was in touch, as I understand good, [with] all UK departments and devolved administrations, so us and Wales, basically looking for input from everyone, including us.

“Yes, given the imperative to help Ukraine, we say yes to that, but the second part is that we don’t want it to be the thin end of a wedge that semi-regularly sees decentralized budgets used for clearly reserved questions… I don’t think this has happened before.

“We would consider it an isolated case. We said yes for the obvious good reasons there are to do so, but we don’t want it to become a regular thing.”

Rebecca Evans, Welsh Government Finance Minister, has warned that the Labor administration will now face “tough decisions” over future spending choices.

She said: “We will continue to provide humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine, and it is right that the UK continues to provide much needed military support. However, defense and foreign affairs are reserved matters.

“This is a new, worrying and potentially divisive approach to the treasury – seeking to use decentralized budgets, which should be earmarked for investments in decentralized areas, such as health and education, to finance reserved spending areas such as military aid and defence. Funding for these areas should rightly be provided by the UK government.

A Treasury spokesperson denied that a precedent had been set if money could be taken from devolved budgets for earmarked spending areas, saying: ‘This is a response to an extraordinary crisis’ .

The Scotsman reported last week that the Scottish government has still not decided what to do with the £41million it received from the UK government to ease the cost of living crisis.

The UK’s total military support for Ukraine since Russia launched its barbaric assault now stands at £2.3billion, more than any country other than the US.

Speaking on the defense spending pledge as the NATO summit in Madrid drew to a close, Mr Johnson said: “We need long-term investment in vital capabilities like the future combat air all simultaneously adapting to a more dangerous and competitive world.

“The logical conclusion of the investments that we propose to embark on, these decisions, is that we will reach 2.5% of GDP for defense by the end of the decade.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Scotland’s diverse military capabilities play an important role in strengthening defence, not only for the British Isles but also for international alliances such as NATO, so the British government must invest in Scotland’s military infrastructure and reverse its decision to downsize.

“The Scottish Government is urging the Ministry of Defense to act quickly on the recommendations of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s recent report on defense in Scotland, which calls for a culture change within its own ranks and among its prime contractors, to increase the proportion of spending by Scottish SMEs. The Scottish SME sector is ready to add its expertise to UK defense objectives.

Defense Secretary Mr Wallace, who was at the center of a row over Cabinet spending during his high-profile campaign for more money, was reportedly grateful for the announcement.

A source close to the minister said: “The Defense Secretary has always been clear that as the threat changes, defense spending must also change.

“In 2020, the Prime Minister has reversed decades of underinvestment in defense and he has rightly responded to the danger from Russia by continuing to invest in defence, for which the Secretary of Defense is very grateful. “

But Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons Defense Committee, said it was “too little, too late”.

Mr Ellwood, who has called for 3% of GDP to be spent on defence, also condemned Mr Johnson for pursuing planned cuts in the size of the army.

“Now is NOT the time to cut the army down by 10,000 men,” he said on Twitter.

“And moving to 2.5% defense spending by 2030 is too little too late.”

Mr Johnson said the West needed to show Mr Putin it had the “power to stay” to support Ukrainians throughout the conflict.

“If you wanted proof of the incredible ability of the Ukrainians to fight back, overcome adversity and hold off the Russians, then watch what happened today on Snake Island where Russia must give ground,” did he declare.

The UK has pledged £1billion in extra military aid to Ukraine and Mr Johnson has said Volodymyr Zelensky’s country must be supported to retake occupied territory.

“I think if Ukraine were to be crushed or forced into a bad peace, the consequences for freedom in the world would be appalling,” he said.

Ukraine pushed for NATO membership, which would have guaranteed the alliance’s protection when Mr Putin launched his invasion in February.

Mr Johnson said membership in the alliance – which is set to expand to include Finland and Sweden due to decisions made in Madrid – was a case for “on the right track”.

But tentatively, he said Ukraine should be fortified with “NATO-grade weapons, plus intelligence, plus training” so that a future attack would be inconceivable.

The Madrid rally also saw NATO take a tougher view of China, saying it is challenging NATO’s “interests, security and values”.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s very important that we remember that we have a huge economic relationship with China… but at the same time we have to understand that there are areas where we have to compete, challenge and sometimes challenge what China is up to.

“There has to be a balanced approach and every country around this table can see that, but obviously one of the reasons why what’s happening in Ukraine is so important is because there’s a clear cross-reading on d other theaters, and that’s why we stick to the rules-based international system like we are.

Foreign Minister Truss argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows the need to ensure Taiwan has the weapons it needs to deter a Chinese invasion.

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