STEPHEN Morgan is facing growing calls to back Portsmouth’s bid to become the home of the Type 26 frigates after he failed to attend a debate in parliament on the base-porting of the new hi-tech warships.
Donna Jones, the former leader of Portsmouth City Council, has said she was ‘disappointed’ by the Labour MP for Portsmouth South for not standing up for the city during a discussion in Westminster on the vessels’ future homes.
The 30-minute session was called by Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard, and held in front of defence minister, Guto Bebb. It was not attended by Tory MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt.
Mr Morgan said he had other commitments at the time of the brief debate and was unable to attend.
He has previously stood by calls from fellow Labour MPs to base all eight of the state-of-the-art anti-submarine frigates in Devonport.
But Portsmouth’s Tory boss, Cllr Jones has now said he should have put party politics aside and stood up for the city.
She said: ‘I’m really, really surprised and disappointed that he didn’t make the case for Portsmouth.
‘He appears to be putting party politics first and turning his back on the city of Portsmouth, instead backing the base-porting of the Type 26s in Devonport.
‘I will be writing to the defence secretary today for some – not all – of the Type 26s to be base-ported in Portsmouth, mirroring the situation of the Type 23s.’
But Mr Morgan retaliated, saying the Conservatives were ‘failing’ the nation’s armed forces.
He said: ‘The Tories haven’t just turned their back on Portsmouth, in politicising this issue, they’re failing our armed forces.
‘Frankly, it’s a bit rich coming from a party that has slashed defence spending scrapped Nimrod, HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier jump jets.
‘From my regular meetings with senior armed forces personnel and first-hand experience on the ground and on our ships with the armed forces parliamentary service, it is clear current plans for base-porting across the nation are compelling.
‘Defence experts, unions, and, most importantly, our Royal Navy all agree.’
He added: ‘Make no mistake, Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy. But ensuring the strength of our fleet means listening to the experts and our armed forces when it comes to national security, not the former council leader.’
Currently, Portsmouth is the home to six Type 23 frigates, while Devonport has the remaining seven.
However, the government has already revealed plans to shake-up where the frigates will be based.
The move will see just five frigates based at the city’s naval base, with Devonport’s numbers being boosted up to eight.
Critically, this will include all of the anti-submarine variants of the Type 23 – vessels which defence experts say will be the ones earmarked for ‘like-for-like’ replacement by the Type 26.
No decision has officially been made on where the Type 26s will call home and whether they will all be based in same area or split up across the nation’s naval hubs.
During today’s debate, MPs put pressure on Mr Bebb to reveal this plan before the summer recess of parliament.
The Tory defence minister refused to be drawn on giving an exact date, vowing an announcement would be made ‘before the end of the year’.
He added: ‘This is a very important decision that will have to be taken sooner rather than later.’
Steel has been cut on the first of the City-class Type 26s, HMS Glasgow, which is due to enter service in the mid-2020s.
A £3.7bn deal has already been agreed by to government to build the first three of the new warships, HMS Glasgow, HMS Belfast and HMS Cardiff.