SENIOR MPs today launched their latest stinging attack on the government’s defence cuts, saying they could leave the military overstretched.
In a report published by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, MPs warn the level of cuts to the Royal Navy, Army and RAF may leave Britain struggling to sustain the current level of operations in Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The latest criticism of the defence cuts comes 10 months after the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) caused outrage by axing 5,000 sailors, 10 warships, and the navy’s fleet of Harrier jets.
Current military chiefs, former commanders, and academic analysts have all been scathing about the cuts since they were announced in October last year – and the parliamentary defence watchdog, which boasts Portsmouth MPs Mike Hancock and Penny Mordaunt among its members, concluded the same after a four-month study.
The committee’s chairman James Arbuthnot MP said: ‘The government appears to believe that the UK can maintain its influence while reducing spending in defence and at the Foreign Office. We do not agree.’
The coalition government launched a three-month defence review almost immediately after taking office last year to plug a £38bn black hole in the MoD’s budget.
Key military assets, such as HMS Ark Royal, were scrapped to save cash in the short-term.
But the government said the pain was necessary to allow the MoD to get on a sound financial footing.
Certain programmes, such as building two new aircraft carriers, survived the chop as the government looks ahead nine years to create what it calls Future Force 2020.
To meet their aim, ministers said defence spending will increase again from 2015.
But today’s report expresses scepticism about whether the government will honour this funding pledge.
It says: ‘We have serious concerns about whether it (Future Force 2020) will be achieved, particularly as the provision of necessary resources is only a government aspiration, not government policy.’
In response, defence secretary Liam Fox said the military equipment budget will rise in real terms by over £3bn between 2015 and 2020.
He added: ‘I am pushing through radical reform to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.’