We’ve repeatedly said that the government and prime minister David Cameron were wrong when the decision was taken to axe aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the navy’s fleet of Harrier jets back in 2010.
They were cut in the Strategic Defence and Security Review because we were told savings had to be found to plug a £38bn black hole in the Ministry of Defence’s finances and help tackle the national debt.
But look at the numbers. National Audit Office figures show that decommissioning Ark Royal and the Harriers saved the Treasury around £100m a year – out of the MoD’s £40bn annual budget. A drop in the ocean, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Now the head of the navy, speaking in Portsmouth, has admitted the government took a ‘punt’ on Britain’s national security by making what we have always maintained was a hasty and ill-thought-out decision.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope told a conference in the city that the government, by leaving the UK without any aircraft carriers until two new warships enter service in the 2020s, was effectively guessing we would be able to call on the support of other nations if a carrier strike was necessary.
But what about the Falklands? It’s highly likely we’d be on our own should Argentina invade again. Although the First Sea Lord didn’t refer to the islands by name, his reference to the ‘obvious exception’ was thinly-veiled.
We have always appreciated that tough financial decisions have to be made about our defence capability. But there’s still an overwhelming case for us retaining a strong Royal Navy fleet – something the First Sea Lord agreed with.
He was absolutely right when he said Britain and the navy are ‘inextricably linked’ and that ‘this island nation has always depended on maritime power to underwrite its security and, importantly, its prosperity.’
Yes, we can utilise the resources of other nations in joint operations. But we must also be able to stand on our own two feet if necessary.