CONTINUED pressure on the UK’s stretched defence budget is threatening the future of the Royal Navy’s two supersized aircraft carriers, Britain’s former top sailor has claimed.
Admiral Lord Alan West launched a bruising attack on Whitehall, slamming the government for ‘airbushing the Royal Navy out of the modern picture’.
He also took aim at MPs, accusing many to be suffering from ‘sea-blindness’ and ‘failing to understand’ how ‘fundamental’ the Senior Service was to the nation.
The former security minister’s comments come as the Ministry of Defence continues to fight a multi-billion ‘blackhole’ in its funding.
The Commons watchdog has warned Britain will need to find an extra £7bn to pay for its 10-year armed forces equipment plan.
MPs from the public accounts committee also claimed the MoD lacked the ability to ‘accurately cost programmes’ and that the shortfall could reach £14.8bn by 2028.
This was something Lord West feared could put Britain’s two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales at risk in the future.
Both vessels are being built to have a 50-year lifespan and MoD officials have previously insisted the warships aren’t at risk of cuts.
But writing in the commons magazine The House, Lord West said: ‘The continuing pressure on the defence budget is putting the government commitment to running both carriers at risk.
‘This is really “spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar” negating serious investment in that capability.
‘It is symptomatic of what has been happening to the Royal Navy under successive governments for the last 30 years.’
The retired naval chief claimed the country was forgetting its maritime heritage and losing sight of the critical role the navy plays in defending Britain’s coastline and territories.
However, politicians have hit back saying the nation valued its maritime industry and that the navy had thrust into the spotlight with the arrival of the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
Caroline Dinenage, Gosport MP and health minister, said under the Tories, Britain’s navy was ‘growing for the first time in a generation’ as demonstrated by the two aircraft carriers.
In addition, she said the government was investing in naval capability with new frigates and support ships and an additional £1bn in the defence budget next year to create one of the ‘most modern and powerful navies in the world’.
She added: ‘Of course Admiral West is a Labour peer and one can only imagine the havoc that would be wreaked on our armed forces if his boss, Jeremy Corbyn, was in charge.’
Former armed forces minister, Penny Mordaunt insisted the navy and Britain’s wider maritime industry was valued.
The Portsmouth North MP said: ‘I’ve always believed we need to keep defence spending strong as well as seeking ways to reduce the pressures on the navy.
‘We are completely reliant on seaborne trade and we must never forget that.’