UK PM Wants to Bring In Compulsory Service for Teens

Opposition calls campaign announcement on national service 'desperate'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2024 2:11 PM CDT
UK's Sunak Wants to Bring Back National Service
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talks to journalists on his plane.   (HENRY NICHOLLS/Pool photo via AP)

In a move the opposition Labour Party calls "desperate," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is promising to bring back a form of conscription if his Conservative Party wins the July 4 election. Sunak, who surprised the country by calling the election last week, said Sunday that the party plans to introduce a year of compulsory national service for 18-year-olds, the BBC reports. He said teens would be able to apply for 30,000 full-time military placements, while hundreds of thousands of others would spend one weekend a month working with charities or organizations like the police or the National Health Service, reports the AP.

The UK introduced national service in 1947. Between the ages of 17 and 21, men were required to serve in the military for 18 months. The program ended in 1960, 20 years before Sunak was born. On Sunday, he said he plans to introduce a "new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country." His party said the plan would divert young people not in employment, education, or training away from "lives of unemployment and crime." It's not clear how the party plans to make national service compulsory. Government ministers say there won't be a threat of prison time, but they haven't ruled out fining the parents of teens who refuse to take part, the Guardian reports.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the "desperate" $3.2 billion plan came from the Conservatives "rummaging around in the toy box to find any plan they can throw on the table," per the Guardian. Former Labor Home Secretary Alan Johnson described the plan as "compulsory volunteering." Other critics noted that the Conservatives have cut troop numbers by more than 25% since 2010.

  • The Washington Post reports that the announcement "sent meme factories into overdrive," with young people mocking both the proposal and their own readiness to serve. In one spoof recruitment video on TikTok, a voiceover said, "If you can fix your parents' iPad, then you can fix an Apache helicopter."
(More United Kingdom stories.)

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