UK cautioned about military aid to Ukraine
Scottish and Welsh ministers have said the British government took their budget funds for military aid to Ukraine, voicing concerns that it could set a precedent. The Treasury has told Scotland and Wales to contribute to a £1 billion ($1.2 billion) weapons package or have their budgets reduced.
Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said on Wednesday that Scotland agreed to provide the £65 million ($78.7 million) funding but only “on this occasion”. She cautioned that “this must not be seen as any kind of precedent,” while Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said she had been forced to set aside £30 million ($36.3 million) intended for “devolved areas like health and education”.
Devolved areas of the UK are controlled by ministers in the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Evans said it was “not right” to use their funds for military aid and defense, a non-devolved spending area. At the same time, she added that Wales will continue to provide humanitarian support for Ukrainians arriving in the country every day seeking refuge from the conflict.
The Scottish government said the money would be used to help fund “sophisticated air defense systems and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers” in order to assist Kiev in fighting off Russia’s military offensive. Scotland has previously independently provided £4 million ($4.8 million) in basic humanitarian aid – health, water and sanitation and shelter – for Ukrainian refugees.
According to Welsh Education Minister Jeremy Miles, there was “no consultation” on the question of military aid, although a UK government spokesperson told the BBC it was incorrect “to say the Welsh government was not consulted…they were consulted and agreed to make a contribution.”
Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asked the devolved administrations to contribute to a £1 billion fund to supply Ukraine with state-of-the-art equipment by either directly handing over the money from their budgets or by accepting a reduction from block grants they receive from Westminster.
The UK Treasury “strongly disagreed” with the Scottish minister’s characterization of the aid request, saying that various government departments had been urged to contribute through their underspend. It also refuted claims that the move constitutes a precedent for raiding devolved budgets for reserved spending areas. “This is a response to an extraordinary crisis”, the spokesperson was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.
The British media has described the request as highly unusual, as such spending usually comes from Westminster.
The UK has been one of the strongest backers of Ukraine since the start of the Russian offensive four months ago. This week it promised to provide an additional £1 billion ($1.2 billion) to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, taking the overall military aid given to Kiev to £2.3 billion ($2.8 billion).The package includes various types of weaponry, including M270 Multiple Launch rocket systems, light anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles.
Moscow has repeatedly warned against supplies of weapons to Ukraine from the US, UK and other allied nations, saying it will only prolong the fighting, while increasing the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West.
The concerns over devolved budget funds being used by the UK government came as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday a target date of October 19, 2023 for a second referendum on independence from the UK.