We must have a ship ready to spring to our defence

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When we say we wish the Ministry of Defence would go on the defensive, we don’t mean we want to see it react to concerns about the protection of home waters with a response bordering on ‘crisis, what crisis?’

We had more in mind that we might see some reassurance of a return to the well-established status quo, in which there is always one warship in the seas off Britain fully-prepared to counter any potential threat at a moment’s notice.

Any time, any place, anywhere, as the ad men used to say.

For the past four weeks, Britain has been shorn of that defence.

Staggeringly, and quite terrifyingly, we have been deprived of a designated Fleet Ready Escort, the frigate or destroyer charged with remaining on high alert in the UK to respond in an instant to an emergency at home or abroad.

The reason is simple: the MoD has, for the moment, run out of ships from which to select the latest holder of the role.

Make no mistake, the cuts are biting hard and few if any will be fooled by the MoD’s insistence that the Fleet Ready Escort is just a ‘luxury’ and, by implication, one which we can do without.

It plainly is not. It is an established part of the Royal Navy’s commitment to protecting our islands and to responding immediately to a threat to our interests or the safety of our citizens anywhere in the world.

That’s not a luxury. We have no doubt that in the best traditions of the service, the Royal Navy would find a way to respond to any challenge it was set.

But that does not make the present position right.

The fact is that senior officer have far fewer cards with which to play nowadays.

It’s easy sometimes to forget that after last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review the surface fleet is down to 19 frigates and destroyers .

That’s why we haven’t at present got a ship tasked with responding immediately to any threat to our country.

And that’s why the government must be made to realise that it has gone far too far in cutting back our Royal Navy.