• Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Sunak plans mandatory national service for youth

The plan would see 18-year-olds given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year

British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak meets with veterans at a community breakfast, in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, Britain, on May 25, 2024, during a party campaign event in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4. (OLI SCARFF/Pool via REUTERS)

By: Shajil Kumar

In one of his first major election pledge announcements on Sunday, prime minister Rishi Sunak said he will introduce a “bold new” form of mandatory National Service for young people if the Conservatives win another five-year term in the July 4 polls.

The British-Indian leader said his plan would see 18-year-olds given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year. The military placement would be selective, with tests used to decide eligibility, and involve working with the armed forces or in cyber defence.

“We have so much to be proud of in Britain but one of the problems in our society is that we have generations of young people who don’t have the opportunities they deserve,” said Sunak in a campaign video to announce this new Tory proposal.

“Britain today faces a future that is more dangerous and more divided. There’s no doubt that democratic values are under threat; that is why we will introduce a bold new model of National Service for 18-year-olds to be spent either in a competitive full-time military commission over 12 months or with one weekend per month volunteering in roles within the community, like delivering prescriptions and food to infirm people or in search and rescue,” he said.

The Tory leader said this would enable young people to gain valuable skills, make the UK more secure, and build a stronger national culture.

“This ambition benefits our country and our young people alike,” he said, pointing to Sweden where 80 per cent of young people completing National Service say they recommend it to their friends.

“Uncertain times call for a clear plan and bold action to charter course to a better future. Our plan will ensure new generations and our country meet the challenges of an uncertain world,” he added.

While he aimed at the Opposition to say they lack such a “clear plan”, the Keir Starmer-led Labour Party hit back against the proposal.

“This is another desperate £2.5 billion unfunded commitment from a Tory party which already crashed the economy, sending mortgages rocketing, and now they’re spoiling for more. This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the Armed Forces to their smallest size since Napoleon,” the Labour Party said in a statement.

Questioned on how the Tory plan would be enforced, UK home secretary James Cleverly told ‘Sky News’ that the military option would be selective.

“There’s going to be no criminal sanctions, nobody’s going to jail over this,” he clarified, adding that nobody will be compelled to do the military element but those who do will be paid and those who choose to volunteer will not be paid.

He explained: “We want to build a society where people mix with people outside their communities, mix with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different income levels. The bulk of this is about helping build a cohesive society where people mix outside their bubble.”

The Liberal Democrats accused the governing Tories of “decimating” the country’s world-class professional armed forces with damaging budget cuts.

“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,” said Lib Dem defence spokesperson Richard Foord.

Historically, National Service was introduced in 1947 after World War II by the then Labour government which involved men between the ages of 17 and 21 required to serve in the armed forces for 18 months. This mandatory National Service scheme came to an end in 1960.

Besides Sweden, a number of other European countries such as Norway and Denmark have similar forms of conscription for their armed forces. (PTI)

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