Sunak Vows to Bring Back National Service for 18 Year Olds

Under the plan, 18 year olds will be required to join the military for a year or help out local emergency services or charities in weekends.
Sunak Vows to Bring Back National Service for 18 Year Olds
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during his visit to the maritime technology centre at Artemis Technology in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 24, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
Lily Zhou

Eighteen-year-olds will serve in the military for one year or take up other weekend volunteering roles under the Tories’ plan to bring back national service, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said.

The pledge marks the first major policy announcement from either side ahead of the July 4 General Election that he called earlier this week.

It comes as the idea of conscriptions returned into debates around Europe amid ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and a threat of war in the Taiwan Strait.

Pitching the plan to voters, Mr. Sunak said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose.”

Under the plans, teenagers can sign up for placement in the forces and they would “learn and take part in logistics, cyber security, procurement, or civil response operations,” the Conservative Party said.

They can also opt for other volunteering roles within local fire, police, and NHS services, or charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly, isolated people, for one weekend each month.

The party said they would set up a royal commission to work on a proposal on how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

It also said the party would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, although Home Secretary James Cleverly said there won’t be criminal sanctions for those who don’t take part.

In a video published on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday, Mr. Sunak said he’s introducing the plan because Britain “faces a future that is more dangerous and more divided,” and its “democratic values are under threat.”

“Young people will gain valuable skills, make our country more secure, and build a stronger national culture,” he said.

The prime minister claimed that 80 percent of young people who completed National Service in Sweden say they would recommend it to their friends, and that the policy “benefits our country and our young people alike.”

According to an article published in The Economist last month, Pal Jonson, Sweden’s minister for defence, said exit surveys show 80 percent of the conscripts would recommend other young people to do military service.”
People watching soldiers demonstrating a Vickers machine gun and a range finder underneath a poster for national service in Trafalgar Square, London, on Sept. 5, 1939. (PA wire)
People watching soldiers demonstrating a Vickers machine gun and a range finder underneath a poster for national service in Trafalgar Square, London, on Sept. 5, 1939. (PA wire)

Touring broadcast studios on Sunday, Mr. Cleverly said the Tories would ensure the scheme “fits with different people’s attitudes and aspirations” after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part.

“There’s going to be no criminal sanction. There’s no one going to jail over this,” he told Sky News’s “Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips” programme.

“This is about dealing with what we know to be the case, which is social fragmentation,” 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.”

The Tories estimate the programme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plan to fund £1 billion through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion.”

The remaining £1.5 billion will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which is a package to support charities and community groups, the party has said.

Promoting the new campaign pledge, the prime minister said Sir Keir Starmer and his Labour Party “don’t have a clear plan and won’t take the bold action to navigate to a more secure future.”

A Labour spokesperson hit back by saying it’s “not a plan,” but “a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon.”

“Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas, and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It’s time to turn the page and rebuild Britain with Labour,” the spokesperson added.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Richard Foord MP also blamed the Tories for defence cuts, saying, “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 criticised the government for reducing the size of the military, and said the money “would be far better spent reversing Conservative cuts to troop numbers.”

Nigel Farage, honorary president of Reform UK, said a mandatory national service plan is “a good idea“ but he believes it’s ”impossible.”

“National service on any scale is literally impossible unless you build up the size of the Army, and you need another 20,000 people to be trainers if you were doing it seriously,” he told GB News.

“We now learn from James Cleverly that only 30,000 people out of 700,000 school leavers would be doing military service, which shows you what a joke it is,” he said, claiming, “Everyone knows he doesn’t mean it, everyone knows he’d never, ever implement it.”

PA Media contributed to this report.