Quakers reject plans for national service

‘Conscription by stealth.’ Peace campaigners on the Conservative Party plans to introduce national service.

Peace campaigners have accused the Conservative Party of trying to introduce ‘conscription by stealth’.

The comments follow the prime minister’s first major announcement of his election campaign. Rishi Sunak said last week that a future Tory government would introduce a scheme in 2025, in which eighteen-year-olds would either join the military for twelve months full-time, or work one weekend per month in their community with organisations such as the fire service, police and the NHS. The prime minister suggested it could foster a ‘renewed sense of pride in our country’.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Quaker-founded peace movement, criticised the plan and affirmed its support for ‘all those whose faith leads them to oppose either national service or conscription’.

John Cooper, director of the Fellowship, said the proposal had been ‘rightly ridiculed’. ‘The abuse of humanity found in warfare is not something to train future generations in. It is already absurd that it’s suggested people will either be paid to be in the military or simply choose to volunteer one weekend a month. Partner branches of the Fellowship have been creating full-time alternative options where people are given the chance to use their skills to build peace instead of being opted into military service. Should the proposed policy be enacted we will be taking ideas of paid alternative service to the Royal Commission.’

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) also condemned the proposal, saying it was an attempt to introduce ‘conscription by stealth’.

‘Earlier in the year, the head of the British Army called for a “citizen army” to prepare for a future land war with Russia and referred to the British public as a “pre-war generation”, provoking speculation about a return of conscription,’ it said. It signalled ‘a dangerous shift in politics’, it added.

Labour called the plan ‘unfunded’ and ‘desperate’ because the Conservatives had ‘hollowed out the Armed Forces to their smallest size since Napoleon’. The plan is expected to cost about £2.5 billion.

Liz Kendall, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said the plan ‘doesn’t deal with the big challenges facing young people who are desperate to get the skills and qualifications they need to get good jobs, to have a home they can call their own’.

James Cleverly, home secretary, confirmed that eighteen-year-olds who refuse to participate would not be sent to prison.

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