THERESA May last night came under fire from a former head of the Royal Navy amid claims she no longer had faith that Britain was a top military power.
Admiral Lord Alan West said he was astounded by reports the prime minster had asked defence secretary Gavin Williamson to ‘justify’ the UK’s tier one military status.
He branded the comments ‘worrying’ and spoke of his concern about the impact this could have in the face of a ‘dangerous’, resurgent Russia.
Speaking at an event at the Royal Naval Club and Royal Albert Yacht Club, in Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth, the retired First Sea Lord said investing in the nation’s military was critically important.
The Labour peer added: ‘That is one of the most worrying things I have heard in the last few months.
‘To have a British prime minister who doesn’t believe we are top-tier nation – I find that desperately disappointing.
‘I admire Theresa in many ways, because she has got grit, but this really worries me.
‘Someone needs to have a long chat to her.’
Downing Street confirmed Mrs May had challenged the defence secretary over his plans, at a meeting on Tuesday.
Under increasing pressure to give an answer, the PM last night said Britain was ‘a leading defence nation and that would continue’.
But she failed to commit the UK to being a top-tier power.
Lord West called for the nation to bombard Whitehall with demands to invest more in Britain’s military.
The UK was at risk of being thrown out of the Nato security council for the government’s ‘staggering complacency’ when it came to defence spending, he said.
‘If you suddenly become a toothless tiger then it’s quite right for people to wonder “why on Earth should you be part of the security council?”,’ he told the audience.
‘The Russians are spending way too much on defence, the Chinese are becoming evermore powerful, there’s the US which is a huge superpower... it would definitely make our position on the security council more and more shaky.’
Concerns over mounting Russian aggression dominated yesterday’s discussion, which was set up by Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP.
Topics debated included Russia’s action in the Crimea and its increasing submarine activity in British waters, to the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Lord West also claimed a nuclear catastrophe could be on the horizon if the West didn’t push back and deter the ‘bully boy’ actions of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
‘Russia is a threat,’ he said. ‘By accident (war) could happen. Accidents like that are more likely to happen when you let someone keep pushing the edge.
‘That’s why it’s so concerning.
‘If you look at Putin’s policy of “de-escalation”, that means firing a tactical nuclear weapon at your enemy to de-escalate the conflict.
‘That is highly dangerous because Nato strategy doesn’t allow for that to mean de-escalation, it causes for a response and very quickly you can get from tactical to strategic and no-one wants that.’
Questions on manpower, shipbuilding and the future of the navy were also tabled.
Mr Morgan said Lord West’s visit was ‘hugely helpful’, adding: ‘The staggering incompetence of our government not to invest at a time of uncertainty is a real message I’ve taken away.’
The government has vowed to invest £178bn into the armed forces over the next decade.