Tories U-turn on national service plans a day after Rishi Sunak’s manifesto launch

Tories U-turn on national service plans a day after Rishi Sunak’s manifesto launch

The Conservatives appear to have u-turned on Rishi Sunak’s flagship national service policy just a day after he announced it in his general election manifesto.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps said the military aspect of the plan will see 18-year-olds take placements in the armed forces for just 25 days per year, despite the manifesto promising a “year-long full-time placement in the armed forces or cyber defence”.

Labour said the policy had been “plunged into disarray” and confirmed the eye-catching plan had not been properly thought through.

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Setting out the party’s plans in Silverstone on Tuesday, Mr Sunak promised to “invest in a new form of national service to give our young people the chance to enjoy new experiences, learn new skills and feel a sense of community, belonging and national purpose”.

Grant Shapps plunged Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy into chaos (PA Wire)

The manifesto document sets out that every 18-year-old in the UK will be given the choice between civic service and military service.

Civic service will see young people mandated to volunteer in the community for 25 days in a year for organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

The military service option states: “A year-long full-time placement in the armed forces or cyber defence.

“This placement will be competitive and paid, so our armed forces recruit and train the brightest and the best..”

The military service option was set to see 30,000 people taking the full-time placements in the armed forces, taking up much of the programme’s estimated £2.5bn cost.

Grilled about the policy on Wednesday morning, Mr Shapps appeared to significantly scale back the promise, suggesting those who opt for the armed forces placement will serve for just 25 days, not a full year.

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Shapps said: “From a defence secretary’s point of view, the very concept of being able to introduce 30,000 people for experience, they are not going to be, you know, this is a 25-day thing in a year. For experience in our armed forces.”

And, challenged over how the government would fund housing for 30,000 young people serving with the armed forces every year, Mr Shapps said: “It’s not, as you presented, 30,000 people for over an entire year, it’s 25 days a year for those 30,000.”

Rishi Sunak said 30,000 18-year-olds would get a year of full-time experience in the armed forces (James Manning/PA Wire)

Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Shapps had “completely blown up the prime minister’s flagship manifesto commitment”.

The shadow paymaster general said: “Rishi Sunak has said 30,000 young people would serve for twelve months in the Armed Forces under his national service scheme, Shapps has now said they will only serve 25 days.

“This is what happens when you have a Conservative Party making up policy as it goes along, and working out how much their pledges will cost the taxpayer after they’ve already been announced. It is a symbol of the utter desperation at the heart of this Conservative campaign, and the chaos at the heart of their government.”

Mr Ashworth said the Conservatives “can’t even decide between themselves from one day to the next what their flagship policy is supposed to deliver”. “It is clear that all Rishi Sunak offers is five more years of chaos and a scattergun of unfunded pledges,” he added.

A Tory source claimed Mr Shapps was talking about an initial 25-day training period for those that undertake the military service option.