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Pacifists pledge to resist national service, if scheme is implemented

troops and police on streets

Pacifists pledge to resist national service, if scheme is implemented

British pacifists have said they will refuse to join or in any way support the military under the Tories’ plans to reintroduce national service, if the scheme is ever implemented.

In the first major announcement of his election campaign, Rishi Sunak said a future Tory government would introduce the scheme in 2025, forcing 18-year-olds either to join the military for 12 months full-time or to work one weekend per month in their community with organisations such as fire, police and NHS services.

Labour have called the scheme ‘unfunded’ and accused the Tories of hollowing out the armed forces by failing to maintain enough troops, without raising any objection to the principle of reintroducing national service.

Members of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), the UK's leading pacifist organisation, have lambasted the plans, pointing out that they are designed to whip up support for the armed forces and an increasingly aggressive UK foreign policy.

Although the Tories claim that the plan does not amount to conscription, the PPU has accused them of attempting to introduce ‘conscription by stealth’.

The PPU has pledged to resist national service and to support future conscientious objectors, warning the government that the scheme would be met by waves of resistance from young people.

In anticipation of the backlash, the home secretary James Cleverly has said 18-year-olds who refuse to participate would not be sent to prison.

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.

At the time, the Tory government were quick to deny any possibility that conscription would be reintroduced.

Geoff Tibbs from the PPU said: “Sunak’s announcement signals a dangerous shift in politics. Conscription has quickly turned from a distant historical memory into a very real possibility, which we need to resist at every turn.”

He added: “This is a transparent attempt by the government to whip up everyday militarism and nationalist fervour in support of their reckless foreign policy, ahead of the general election. With the UK’s military spending and nuclear arsenal growing fast, this move sends another provocative signal to Russia and China, which can only make the world more unsafe.’

The PPU, founded in 1934, has opposed conscription in the UK and around the world for ninety years. Many of its original members were conscientious objectors in the First World War and many went on to become conscientious objectors in World War Two.

As the British section of War Resisters' International (WRI), the PPU stands in solidarity with people refusing to serve in the military in the many countries worldwide where conscription is in force, including in Russia, Ukraine and Israel.

The PPU recently marked International Conscientious Objectors' Day (15th May), along with many other peace organisations in the UK and around the world, to raise awareness of the struggles of conscientious objectors and to send them a message of solidarity.