COMMENT: Wise words from a voice we ignore at  our peril

When someone as wise in defence matters as Admiral Lord Alan West airs his views about the state of the Royal Navy, you would hope ears in Whitehall would prick up.

Friday, 22nd March 2019, 3:08 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd March 2019, 3:11 pm

This time, ears there and in parliament should be burning as the admiral launches a broadside at those in power for ‘airbrushing the Royal Navy out of the modern picture.’

MPs were also caught in the crossfire as he claimed many of them were suffering from ‘sea-blindness’ and ‘failing to understand’ how ‘fundamental’ the Senior Service was to the nation.

There is no doubt Lord West speaks from a position of authority on defence matters. He rose to First Sea Lord after a distinguished naval career and before that served as Minister for Security and Counter-Terrorism in Gordon Brown’s government.

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The target of his ire is a £7bn shortfall in funding to pay for the MoD’s 10-year armed forces equipment plan.

The Commons public accounts committee has claimed the MoD lacked the ability to ‘accurately cost programmes’ and that the shortfall could reach £14.8bn by 2028. Lord West fears that could put Britain’s two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales at risk in the future.

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.’

At a time when the nation and the government is preoccupied with Brexit, Lord West’s is a voice that really cannot be ignored.