Home » National service will ‘toughen up’ British teenagers to face dangerous world

National service will ‘toughen up’ British teenagers to face dangerous world

National service will “toughen up” Britain’s teenagers as the nation is put on a war footing, the Defence Secretary insisted.

Grant Shapps said recruiting 30,000 teenagers for a year-long stint in the armed forces is what the country and military “sorely need”.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Red Sea attacks and conflict in the Middle East show things are only moving in one direction, he said.

Mr Shapps said the national service placement planned by the Conservatives is an important step in building up the country’s resilience.

Writing in the Daily Express, Mr Shapps said: “We are in the most unstable world I’ve seen since the height of the cold war.

“War in Europe. British ships being attacked in the Red Sea. Expansionism on the march.

“Things are only moving in one direction. The world is becoming more uncertain, not less.

“National service is what our country and our military sorely need.

“So Britain’s going to toughen up. Because our adversaries certainly are.”

Mr Shapps said the election is a choice between “human weathervane” Sir Keir Starmer, who has not committed to a timetable for increasing defence spending to 2.5% of national income and a Prime Minister committed to defence of the realm.

He said: “One man takes our nation’s security seriously. Another pays lip service to it.

“Our nation’s security takes bold action, going against the grain and sticking up for what is right.

“It cannot be trusted in the hands of a human weathervane. The Labour Party, led by a man with no principles and no plan, poses a real danger to this.”

The Conservative plan to force 18-year-olds to choose between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year working in the community was the first bold offering of the general election campaign.

They will ask a Royal Commission to look at incentivising the full-time armed forces placement.

Options include fast tracked interviews for graduate schemes in private and public sectors and encouraging employers to consider those who complete the military service for jobs.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “National Service schemes in countries around the world show how just how fulfilling it is for young people.

“We want to make sure Britain’s future generations can get the most out of national service, that’s why we’re looking into ways it can open doors they wouldn’t otherwise get in work or education.

“Only the Conservatives will take the bold action required to deliver a secure future for the next generation.”

The party said this commission would be tasked with bringing forward a proposal for how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

After that, it would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, the party said.

The military option would be selective, with some 30,000 placements for “the brightest and best” while everyone else would carry out volunteer work instead, the Conservatives said.

It estimates the programme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1 billion of it through a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion.

The national service plan was backed by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Chief executive Mark Dowie said: ‘We know from 200 years of the RNLI’s proud history that young people have great amounts of energy and commitment to volunteer.

“Hundreds of young people are currently playing a part in our lifesaving mission, as volunteer crew on our lifeboats, lifeguards on busy beaches and fundraisers. We commemorate our 200th anniversary this year and one of our key objectives is to inspire a future generation of lifesavers.

“We are supportive of initiatives that encourage more young people to consider volunteering for the RNLI and other charities but would need to consider carefully what any involvement in a scheme which mandated volunteering might look like, and it would take some time for us to work through the detail.”

The government confirmed that teenagers would not be jailed for defying the mandatory national service scheme.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the plans were aimed at getting young people “out of their bubble” and would not involve the threat of criminal sanctions for those who refuse to comply.

He said: “Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities. They don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints.”

Labour dismissed the plan as a gimmick.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall said: “This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick, it is not a proper plan to deliver it, it doesn’t deal with the big challenges facing young people who are desperate to get the skills and qualifications they need to get good jobs, to have a home they can call their own.”

But shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has been an advocate of National Service for almost two decades.

In his book Tribes: A Search for Belonging in a Divided Society, Mr Lammy wrote that compulsory community service is a “public good that can be shared equally across classes, races, genders and regions”.

He praised national service because “women and men, black or white, poor or rich, from Tottenham or Torquay, would mix as equals”. ‘