Refusing mandatory National Service won't lead to prison, home secretary says after Tory policy launch

26 May 2024, 07:40 | Updated: 26 May 2024, 18:29

Nobody would go to jail for refusing to comply with National Service under a Conservative government, the home secretary has said.

In the Conservatives' first policy announcement of the general election campaign, Rishi Sunak said on Saturday he would introduce a new form of mandatory National Service for 18-year-olds if his party wins the vote in July.

They would be given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year.

The announcement came two days after defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison told the Commons the government has "no plans" to reintroduce National Service and doing so would "damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources".

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The military option would be selective but questions have arisen over whether any teenager who refuses to do either option would be punished.

Talking to Sky News's Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: "There's going to be no criminal sanctions, nobody's going to jail over this."

He added that "nobody will be compelled to do the military element" but said those who do will be paid - while those who choose to volunteer will not be paid.

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Mr Cleverly said the main point of the policy is to make sure "people mix with people outside their bubble" for "community cohesion".

He said those who choose the military option "will be motivated to join the military" after spending a year with the Armed Forces.

Mr Sunak released a video on TikTok on Sunday explaining the new policy to young adults.

Mr Cleverly said: "We want to build a society where people mix with people outside their own communities, mix with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different income levels.

"The bulk of this is about helping build a cohesive society where people mix outside their bubble."

The Conservatives said the National Service programme would cost £2.5bn a year and would be funded by cash previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall accused the policy of being "yet another unfunded spending commitment".

She told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: "That UK Prosperity Fund is supposed to be used to tackle economic inactivity and helping people get back into work so that really undermines another one of their arguments.

"This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick."

She added that it does not deal with the big challenges facing young people, and said Labour has a "fully costed, fully funded plan to give young people those real opportunities that they need to build up".