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26th May 2024

Rishi Sunak pledges to bring back national service for 18-year-olds

Ryan Price

Mandatory national service came to an end in 1960.

The Prime Minister has unveiled a new scheme that would see 18-year-olds 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.

Rishi Sunak outlined the plan as one of his promises should the Conservatives win the upcoming general election on July 4th.

National Service first came into force in the UK in January 1949.

It required all physically fit males aged between 17 and 21 to serve in one of the armed forces for an 18-month period, with the period lengthened in 1950 to two years.

It came to an end in 1960.

This is Sunak’s first new policy announcement of his electoral campaign.

The Conservatives estimate the programme would cost £2.5bn a year by 2029/30 funded with cash previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and by cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

The mandatory placement would be selective and involve working with the armed forces or in cyber defence.

Tests would be carried out to determine people’s physical and mental eligibility, and the alternative volunteering option would see young people spending 25 days with organisations such as the police, the fire service, the NHS, or charities that work with older isolated people.

In an exclusive column for the Mail on Sunday, the PM said: “Our pride in our United Kingdom should not blind us to the challenges it faces. One of those is that generations of young people have not had the opportunities, or experiences, they deserve – and too much potential is wasted in purposeless lives of crime or unemployment. I want to change that and have a clear plan to do so.

We will reinvent National Service for today’s Britain,” he continued. “It 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. It shouldn’t only be those who are fortunate enough to go on gap years that get the opportunity to have these kind of experiences.”

He added: “To those who complain that making it mandatory is unreasonable, I say: citizenship brings with it obligations as well as rights. Being British is about more than just the queue you join at passport control.”

(Getty Images)

He also suggested National Service would cut crime, saying research shows volunteering can increase social responsibility.

The Prime Minister announced a general election to take place in July earlier this week.

In recent weeks, Mr Sunak had said a general election would take place in the second half of 2024, but it was widely assumed this would not be until the autumn.

According to reports, there was a split in the Tory party over whether to hold an election in July or November.

The last general election saw the Conservatives claim a landslide victory with a majority of 80 seats.

Boris Johnson was leader of the party at the time, but since then there have been two more Tory leaders – Liz Truss and Sunak.

More than 100 MPs have announced they will be standing down at the next election, including a number of senior Tory figures such as Nadhim Zahawi, Matt Hancock, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid.

Anyone on the electoral register aged 18 or above on polling day can vote as long as they are: a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a Republic of Ireland citizen with a UK address, and not legally excluded from voting.

You must be on the electoral register in order to vote. You can register to vote at any time if you are 16 or over, or 14 or over in Scotland and Wales.

UK citizens who live abroad can now register to vote in the constituency where they were previously on the electoral roll.

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