UK’s Sunak promises mandatory national service for 18-year-olds if elected

Ruling Conservative Party says it will bring back national service if it wins the July 4 general election.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak [File: Carl Recine/Pool via Reuters]

Eighteen-year-olds will have to perform a mandatory national service if the Conservative Party is voted back to power in the United Kingdom’s July 4 election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced.

The UK has “generations of young people who have not had the opportunities they deserve”, and this measure would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world”, Sunak said on Saturday.

The prime minister’s plan would entail young people being given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year volunteering in their community, the party said.

The announcement came as Conservatives gear up for elections, heightening its attacks on the opposition Labour Party.

The UK had national service between 1947 and 1960, with men between the ages of 17 and 21 serving in the armed forces for 18 months. The British Army has reduced in size from 100,000 in 2010 to nearly 73,000 as of January 2024, the BBC reported.

The Conservative Party said the placement with the armed forces would help the teenagers “learn and take part in logistics, cybersecurity, procurement or civil response operations”.

The community service option would entail helping local fire, police and the UK’s National Health Service, as well as charities tackling loneliness in elderly, isolated people. The programme would cost approximately 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2bn) a year, BBC reported.

A royal commission, with experts from military and civil society, would be created to design the national service programme.

The first pilot for the programme would open applications in September 2025. Following that, the Conservatives would introduce a “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next parliamentary term.

The Conservatives have insisted the scheme does not amount to conscription, the Guardian reported.

“This new, mandatory national service will provide life-changing opportunities for our young people, offering them the chance to learn real-world skills, do new things and contribute to their community and our country,” Sunak said.

“The consequences of uncertainty are clear. No plan means a more dangerous world. You, your family and our country are all at risk if Labour win,” he added.

The Labour Party called the announcement “another desperate unfunded commitment” and said the foreign minister, David Cameron, introduced a similar scheme – the National Citizen Service – when he was prime minister.

A Labour spokesperson said: “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.”

“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.”

Several European countries, including Sweden, Norway and Denmark, already have some form of conscription for their armed forces.

Source: News Agencies