Liz Truss will drop her pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2026 in her hunt for emergency spending cuts, No 10 has hinted.
The prime minister’s spokesman said a separate target to reach 3 per cent by 2030 still stood – but refused to stand by the interim promise, made on the campaign trail in the summer.
The “shape” of how the budget will hit 3 per cent by the end of the decade would be set out “at future spending reviews”, he said.
The spokesman also refused to guarantee that overall departmental spending will still be going up after the latest “budget” by the new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, on 31 October.
But, asked if the UK is heading for the pain of a second period of austerity, he replied: “No” – insisting the huge cuts inflicted by George Osborne after 2010 would not be repeated.
Strikingly, the spokesman revealed that individual departments have not yet been given guidance on what cuts they must find, despite Mr Hunt planning to announce them in 13 days’ time.
And he was unable to say when aspects of Ms Truss’s “growth plan” – which will be crucial to showing the government can get a grip on borrowing and debt – will be set out.
No 10 also echoed Mr Hunt by confirming the pensions “triple lock” is in peril, to prevent payments having to rise in line with inflation of about 10 per cent next April.
“The prime minister and the chancellor are not making any commitments on individual policy areas at this point,” the spokesman said.
No cabinet member suggested Ms Truss should resign during its 90-minute weekly meeting – staged as the prime minister fights for her political future – the spokesman said.
Asked if she is concerned that ministers are discussing how to get rid of her, he said: “Her view is she needs to be focused on what is right for the country rather than on any internal discussions among the party at the moment.”
Both Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, and his deputy James Heappey have hinted they would resign if the 3 per cent by 2030 pledge is axed.
But they are also expecting their budget to increase from 2.1 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent by 2026 – on the road to a £100bn annual allocation by the end of the decade.
It is understood that the prime minister gave Mr Wallace specific undertakings in a letter of appointment setting out his priorities on 29 September.
Mr Heappey, the armed forces minister, asked if he would resign if the 3 per cent commitment is dropped, told LBC Radio: “Yeah.”
Mr Wallace is on an hastily arranged trip to Washington, where he will the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, and other senior White House figures to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and other “shared security concerns”.