FoRAS part of its General Election campaigning, the Conservative Party has been talking about the reintroduction of National Service for all 18 year olds within the UK. Through a combination of either military service or ‘compulsory voluntary activity’, all 18 year olds would be expected to participate.

A Royal Commission will design the programme, with a pilot scheme opening for applications in September 2025, ahead of a national rollout by 2029. In the meantime, there are unanswered questions and apparent contradictions. Foreign Office Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan refused to address the question of enforcement penalties against the parents of 18 year old (legal adult) refusniks. It is hard to see how the plan can be described as ‘conscription’ when the young people involved have a choice between a year in the Armed Forces and one weekend each month volunteering in their community, though the concept of ‘compulsory volunteering’ needs careful consideration, as does inflexibility over deferral for those about to enter further or higher education or take up their first job.

Speaking on 26 May John Cooper, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, responded to the announcement saying: “The proposal to reintroduce national service has been rightly ridiculed this morning. The armed forces and large employers traditionally oppose it. Young people, polled earlier this year, oppose it and our faith leads us to oppose it. The only people in favour appear to be politicians who would not be the ones doing it.

“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. We will continue to support those whose faith leads them to object to conscription into the armed forces.”

The Fellowship of Reconciliation was formed in 1914 and provided theological and moral support to those who objected to military service in the First World War, before conscientious objection was legally recognised as a right. Since then it has supported Conscientious Objectors in World War 2, during the era of National Service, and then in other nations through campaigns and advocacy, including supporting a UN Office in Geneva.

* Source: Fellowship of Reconciliation