Politicians must heed the First Sea Lord’s words

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth            Picture: PA

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Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of the First Sea Lord’s warning about the Navy’s ability to resource a prolonged campaign in Libya is that few if any seem that surprised that he is concerned about the issue.

We have, perhaps, already grown dangerously close to the belief that our senior service has to run at pared-to-the-bone level.

So when the most senior sailor in the land says he might have to redeploy ships away from the direct defence of these islands if more are needed in the Mediterranean, there is almost a feeling of fait accompli in some quarters.

There shouldn’t be, by any means.

Of course, service leaders have always fought the corner for their side of the military, have always complained or cajoled for a bit more in the way of investment and resource.

But this is something more serious. Sir Mark Stanhope has chosen his words carefully – he’s not just flown off the handle and launched a scare-tactic broadside in a bid to force the hands of his political masters.

Instead, he has calmly explained that, with the resources he now has at his disposal, a need to up the ante in the Med would mean that he would have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

To use the gambling analogy, all his chips are already in play. If he needs to invest more heavily in one square, he will need to borrow from another. Serious enough in a game of chance. Except this, of course, is no game.

This is about our future as an island nation – the land of Nelson, Howe, Drake and Fisher.

Our Navy is expensive to run, but it is integral to our safety and prosperity.

We forge alliances and maintain friendships, but at the end of the day our strength is predominately based on our ability to rise to our own defence and to protect and safeguard our interests – and our citizens – around the globe.

Politicians must take serious and immediate note of what the First Sea Lord has said. We must ensure we have sufficient ships and personnel to deal with any likely situation. It’s our right – and it’s not negotiable.