Britain should be prepared to spend much more on high-tech defences after Brexit in order to ‘defend our Enlightenment values’, said the foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Speaking at the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet, he said a major increase in military spending on cyber and space warfare capabilities and artificial intelligence, would demonstrate the the UK’s commitment to defending democratic values at a time of growing global uncertainty.
“The nature of warfare is changing,” he said.
“The conflicts of tomorrow could well start with a cyber attack, then escalate into precision strikes by hypersonic missiles followed by swarms of unmanned aircraft.
“The new domains of space and cyber and the immense capabilities of artificial intelligence will transform the conduct of warfare.
“If we want Britain to defend the Enlightenment values that owe so much to our finest thinkers, like David Hume in Edinburgh and Adam Smith in Glasgow, then we need to be leaders in these areas too.”
He said it was not sustaintable to expect the US to carry on spending 4% of its GDP on defence while other NATO allies spent only 1% to 2%.
“The outcome of such investment should demonstrate beyond doubt that when we say Britain stands for the defence of democratic values, when we promise never to leave our great ally, the United States, to perform this task alone, then we are as good as our word and in doing so we encourage other democracies who share our values to follow suit,” he said.
He acknowledged the UK currently accounted for almost 20% of total EU defence spending, and that British forces possessed a “hugely disproportionate share” of some key capabilities such as heavy lift transport aircraft.
But at a time of evolving threats, he said the country needed to be prepared to do more to defend its traditional values.
Defence spending is the remit of the defence minister Penny Mordaunt, and is not strictly Jeremy Hunt’s remit, so his speech is likely to be read as an attempt to appeal to MPs as part of a potential leadership bid.
The former remainer has also sought to appeal to Brexiteers, saying that Britain must leave the EU “cleanly and properly”.
“How could we defend democracy on the international stage if a large part of our population believes we are ignoring it at home?” he said.
Nia Griffith, shadow defence decretary, responded to his calls for increased military spending on Twitter.
“Jeremy Hunt has been a Cabinet Minister since 2010,” she wrote.
“Since then the Tories have cut defence spending by £9 billion in real terms. If he was so bothered, you’d have thought he might have said something a bit sooner?”