It’s extremely disappointing to discover that the government has ruled out a rethink of its defence cuts. Now that our armed forces are involved in conflict in Libya, it was the ideal time for Prime Minister David Cameron to accept that a review was necessary.
To do so would not have been a sign of weakness, but instead an indication that this government is one that is prepared to listen and not afraid to admit it can get decisions wrong.
Instead, Foreign Secretary William Hague now says: ‘These major decisions are not being re-opened. It would be wrong to think that we are re-opening the defence review.’
When the Strategic Defence and Security Review was carried out last year, the world was a different place. But look what has happened since. At a time of instability, with a defence commitment in Libya that our air force chiefs are warning has left us overstretched, swingeing cuts ought to be reconsidered.
We don’t believe that the whole review needs to be redone. But in an uncertain world, we need a strong Royal Navy and other armed services. So we agree with those who are now saying the SDSR – which saw the axeing of HMS Ark Royal, Harrier jump jets, four frigates and 5,000 naval redundancies – must be revisited.
The situation in Libya has shown that the government was too hasty in getting rid of a carrier strike capability with Ark Royal and Harrier jets.
There had been reports indicating that Mr Cameron was considering a u-turn on the cuts. Certainly, ordering the Treasury to give the Ministry of Defence £800m to plug a funding gap in this year’s budget seemed to indicate that he at least appreciated the problems it has in balancing the books.
Only yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was hinting that certain ‘adjustments’ would be needed to the defence cuts, leading to speculation that two Type 22 frigates and a number of Harrier jump jets could be reprieved.
But now Mr Hague seems to have slammed the door shut on any revisiting of the SDSR. We believe that is a big mistake.