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24 Jun 2024 16:00
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  •   Home > News > International

    British PM Rishi Sunak announces plan to bring back mandatory national service

    Under the proposed plan, which would come into effect if Mr Sunak's Conservative Party wins the UK general election, 18-year-olds would either join the military full-time for a year or volunteer one weekend a month in community services.

    Rishi Sunak has unveiled his first new policy leading up to the UK snap election, saying his Conservative Party will bring back mandatory national service for 18-year-old Britons, in a move that has been dubbed "desperate" by the opposing Labour Party.

    The national service would require young people to either join the military full-time or volunteer one weekend a month in community service.

    Mr Sunak said he believed the service would help young people learn "real world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country", as well as fostering "national spirit".

    "This is a great country but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve and there are forces trying to divide our society in this increasingly uncertain world," Mr Sunak said.

    "I have a clear plan to address this and secure our future. I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country."

    Mr Sunak's Conservative Party said the national service would also help divert at-risk young people away from "lives of unemployment and crime", and provide "valuable work experience".

    The plan is the first new policy announcement made by Mr Sunak since he called an early general election for July 4.

    His party, which has been in power since 2010, has consistently polled behind the opposing Labour Party since January 2022.

    A Labour spokesperson said the plan was "another desperate £2.5 billion unfunded commitment" from the Conservative Party who "already crashed the economy, sending mortgages rocketing".

    "This is not a plan – it's a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories (Conservatives) hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon," the spokesperson said.

    Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson and member of parliament Richard Foord said the Conservative Party had made "damaging cuts" to defence forces.

    "If the Conservatives were serious about defence, they would reverse their damaging cuts to our world class professional armed forces, instead of decimating them, with swingeing cuts to the number of our regular service personnel," Mr Foord said.

    "Our armed forces were once the envy of the world. This Conservative government has cut troop numbers and is planning more cuts to the size of the army."

    The options for the national service would include full-time, 12-month placements in the armed forces or cyber defence, or volunteering 25 days a year in community organisations such as fire and rescue services, police, the National Health Service (NHS) or charities that work with the elderly.

    A new royal commission would establish the details of the plan.

    The details include possible non-criminal sanctions for any young people who refused to take part in the service, Sky News reported quoting sources in the Conservative Party.

    The cost of the scheme is estimated at about £2.5bn ($4.8bn), the BBC reported.

    The UK had a national service, where men between the ages 17 and 21 were required to serve in the military for 18 months, from 1947 to 1960.

    Several other European countries, including Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, already have a form of mandatory military service. Denmark announced a plan this month to expand mandatory national service to young women.

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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