Royal Navy: Claims of underfunding in the armed forces are ‘not credible’

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The veterans’ minister has risked reigniting a dispute with the Defence Secretary by arguing it was “not credible” to say Britain’s armed forces had been “hollowed out”.

Johnny Mercer, asked about Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s recent comments on defence funding, said he did not “buy into the narrative of running down defence” as he praised the size of defence settlements in recent years.

He suggested the Cabinet minister had been “advocating for” the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the lead-up to the Budget on March 15 with recent pronouncements. It follows comments the former Scots Guard made suggesting the UK’s military had been under-resourced.

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During a debate last month in the Commons, Mr Wallace said he was “happy to say that we have been hollowed out and underfunded”.

Portsmouth - the home of the Royal Navy. Picture: Adobe Stock.Portsmouth - the home of the Royal Navy. Picture: Adobe Stock.
Portsmouth - the home of the Royal Navy. Picture: Adobe Stock.

Only days later, he told a joint UK-Australia press conference in Portsmouth that a “growing proportion” of Government spending would need to go towards keeping the country safe, in a message that was read as being directed at Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the Budget. It comes against a backdrop of UK efforts to support Ukraine in pushing back invading Russian troops and rising global tensions with China.

Reports have suggested Mr Mercer, a former commando captain, had taken umbrage with the Defence Secretary’s remarks in Parliament, apparently telling a Coalition for Global Prosperity event they were “patently not true”.

The Cabinet Office minister, asked about his reported past criticism of Mr Wallace’s stance, told LBC: “Ben is engaged in a lobbying effort for his department, as you would expect him to be.

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“The facts are that when I came into politics, defence spending was around £38 billion per year — it is just shy of £50 billion a year now.

“It is obviously not credible to say that the money has been taken out of defence.”

Pressed on Mr Wallace’s handling of the MoD funding debate, Mr Mercer added: “I think he is advocating for his department when a spend is coming up.

“But when this Prime Minister was chancellor only 18 months ago, he gave the biggest settlement to defence since the end of the Cold War.

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“So it is then not credible to go forward and say that we haven’t put money into defence.

“I think we have, I think our MoD and military is in terrific shape. There is lots to be positive about, so I’m afraid I don’t really buy into the narrative of running down defence.”

The comments come ahead of an update to the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, which is expected in the coming weeks.

Published in 2021, the integrated review announced a foreign policy “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific in recognition of China’s growing influence in the region.

The MoD has been approached for comment.