THE UK Government would not send teenagers to jail for defying the Tories’ proposed “mandatory” national service scheme, Home Secretary James Cleverly has said.

The top Tory MP said the proposals – which would be paid for with money brought in to replace lost EU structural funds – were aimed at getting young people “out of their bubble” and would not involve the threat of criminal sanctions for those who refuse to comply.

Cleverly’s comments come after The Mirror reported on a leaked Tory briefing document on their conscription policy which did not rule out jailing teens who refuse to comply.

In the first major policy announcement ahead of the General Election, Rishi Sunak pledged to get 18-year-olds to either join the military for 12 months or “volunteer” one weekend a month for a year.

The Prime Minister said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose”.

In an apparent pitch to older voters and those who may turn to Reform UK, the Conservatives said volunteering could include helping local fire, police and NHS services, and charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly people.

Opposition critics have dismissed the plans as unserious, with Labour saying the pledge would never come to fruition and amounted to “another unfunded commitment”.

Touring broadcast studios on Sunday, Cleverly said the Tories would ensure the scheme “fits with different people’s attitudes and aspirations” after questions arose over whether teenagers would be punished for not taking part.

“There’s going to be no criminal sanction. There’s no-one going to jail over this,” he told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme.

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“This is about dealing with what we know to be the case, which is social fragmentation.

“Too many young people live in a bubble within their own communities. They don’t mix with people of different religions, they don’t mix with different viewpoints.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall said: “This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick, it is not a proper plan to deliver it, it 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.”

The Conservatives said they would establish a royal commission bringing in expertise from across the military and civil society to establish the details of what they described as the “bold” national service programme.

The party said this commission would be tasked with bringing forward a proposal for how to ensure the first pilot is open for applications in September 2025.

After that, it would seek to introduce a new “National Service Act” to make the measures compulsory by the end of the next Parliament, the party said.

The military option would be selective, with some 30,000 placements for “the brightest and best” while everyone else would carry out volunteer work instead, the Conservatives said.

It estimates the programme will cost £2.5 billion a year by the end of the decade and plans to fund £1bn through plans to “crack down on tax avoidance and evasion”.

The National: David Cameron delivers a speech in London earlier this month

The remaining £1.5bn will be paid for with money previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), a key part of the Levelling Up agenda which was intended to replace EU structural funding lost after Brexit, the Tories said.

Labour pointed out that David Cameron (above) introduced a similar scheme – the National Citizen Service – when he was prime minister.

Cameron’s announcement had no military component to it, instead encouraging youngsters to take part in activities such as outdoor education-style courses as part of his “Big Society” initiative.

Reform UK leader Richard Tice said the plan was “completely unworkable”, while Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer described it as “removed from reality” and “not what our military needs and it certainly isn’t what our young people need.”