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Sir Keir Starmer has refused to say when he will increase the defence budget by billions of pounds to help protect the UK and support Ukraine's war with Russia.

The Prime Minister was pressed on when he would lift defence spending from 2 per cent to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, as the Labour party had pledged during the general election campaign.

Declining to set a date, he said: “We are committed to the 2.5 per cent as I have said before the election and Is say again after the election. That is subject to our fiscal rules but the commitment is there."

The Labour Government is launching a strategic review next week to weigh up the threats to the UK and the necessary defence budget to combat them.

Starmer said that he hoped the review will be finished more quickly than the 12 month deadlines that Labour had set itself in Opposition.

Speaking to reporters including GB News en route to Washington DC for a Nato summit, he said: "The strategic review will take place that will happen next week and we will set out the details of that.

"The manifesto commitment was that it would take place within a year, I would like it to happen quicker than that if I’m honest and we’ll set out details about how we are going to do it.

"But the 2.5 per cent is a very important commitment.

"It is not the only commitment and one of the things we are emphasising as we go to this summit is that the contribution of the UK to Nato is unique in Europe in terms of the capability we are putting in, the deployment and our determination to use this summit to make progress on further support for Ukraine, so the 2. 5 per cent is an important commitment but there are other really important aspects in the support we are putting in for Ukraine as well and to Nato."

He said: "I am committed to that 2.5 per cent within our fiscal rules.

"That strategic review needs to come first. But today, tomorrow and the next day is all about standing together with our allies, discussing practically how we provide further support to Ukraine, and send a very, very clear message to Putin that we will stand against Russian aggression wherever it is in the world.”

Starmer is meeting Nato leaders a day after Russia bombed a children's hospital in Kyiv. Starmer described the attack as "absolutely shocking, appalling".

Asked for his message to Russian president Vladimir Putin, he said: "My message is very, very clear that this Nato summit is an opportunity for allies to stand together to strengthen their resolve, particularly in light of that appalling attack against Russian aggression.

"I'm pleased to have the early opportunity to confirm and reaffirm Labour's strong support, unshakeable support for Nato.

"We are a founding member, it's now the 75th anniversary but this is an opportunity to send that message in relation to Russian aggression wherever. But that attack last week was appalling so that message is even more important than it was before."

Asked whether defence was more important than other policy areas like ending the doctors' strikes, or funding schools and local councils fully, he said: “The defence and security of the nation of the country is the first priority of government.

"That is well understood by me. It's been well understood by Labour governments, whenever we've had Labour governments.

"It is very well understood by this Labour government. It is the first priority. And that is why we are carrying out the strategic review. That is wider than the money question."

He added: "The first duty of any government, of this government is defence of the nation, defence of the country.”

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