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Grant Shapps calls for UK defence spending to rise to 3% of GDP

Grant Shapps has called for defence spending to rise to 3% of GDP - as he confirmed a £2bn Chinook helicopters deal with Boeing.

It marks a step up from the government's previous target of 2.5% of GDP, which Mr Shapps had said would be possible "when conditions allow".

It comes as the Ministry of Defence announced the UK will get 14 new Chinook (CH47-ER) helicopters, which Mr Shapps said would enhance Britain's armed forces' ability to "respond at pace to situations and threats across the globe".

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He announced the commitment to proceed with the contract, reversing a decision by his predecessor Ben Wallace to scrap the deal in a diplomatic spat over the price tag - which rose by about £500m to £2.3bn.

Britain negotiated the price down by £300m for the fleet of US-made heavy-lift helicopters, which have double the range of a standard Chinook and can carry 10,000kg of cargo.

The defence secretary was speaking to reporters on a visit to Poland, when he called for the 3% target to be put in the Tory manifesto, saying: "I want a bigger budget."

"I have coined the phrase 'moving from post-war to pre-war'. We have to be much better prepared," the Daily Mail reports him as saying.

"Defence is the best way to protect ourselves against a military conflict - you have to show your adversaries - so I am clearly in favour [of a 3% target].

"We live in a more dangerous world, we've got Putin on the frontline making gains."

The defence secretary also said he wanted an overhaul of recruitment, including an end to certain medical requirements and lifting the ban on soldiers wearing beards.

He added he wanted changes to recruitment processes that can currently see applicants wait more than 12 months to begin training.

He said: "You can be rejected for the most ludicrous reasons. Medical tests will ask about family history and if they think in 40 years' time you might develop some diseases, using actuaries, then they'll say you cannot serve today."

Discussing the facial hair regulations, he said: "Who cares if somebody has got a beard? Does that really mean you cannot fight? Come on, we are living in the 21st century, it is time to move on."

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Research by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in 2022 suggested increasing defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 would require £157bn in additional spending over eight years.

Mr Shapps' statement follows unusual calls from security minister Tom Tugendhat and Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan to increase spending immediately from 2.27% of GDP to 2.5%.

Last week's budget contained no new money for defence.

If the Conservatives do include a pledge to spend 3% of GDP on defence in their manifesto, it would open a further dividing line with Labour going into the next general election - which is certain to come before the end of January next year.

During a recent appearance on Sky News, Labour refused to commit to spending 2.5% of GDP but said its commitment was to ensure the armed forces were "adequately funded".