Defence spending fears raised by Portsmouth MP

PRESSURE is piling on Whitehall today amid claims the government is failing to invest more in Britain's military.

Saturday, 25th November 2017, 2:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th December 2017, 12:49 pm
Royal Marines fro 40 Commando during an exercise in Belize. Photo: MoD

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, has lambasted Tory chancellor Philip Hammond for ‘making no mention’ of an increase in defence spending during his autumn budget speech earlier this week.

The Labour MP’s criticism comes after a former head of the Royal Navy hit out, claiming that under the Conservatives’ rule the nation’s armed forces had been ‘hollowed out’.

But Tories say they are committed to the Britain’s armed forces and to spending two per cent of the nation’s earnings – GDP – on boosting military coffers.

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Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, pictured far right with soldiers from the British Army's training unit in Kenya.

However, in a statement to The News, Mr Morgan – who recently returned to the UK after an overseas trip to Kenya visiting the British Army’s training unit there – claimed this was not enough.

He said: ‘It’s no wonder the chancellor didn’t once mention defence spending in his budget this week – and that’s because the government is overseeing an unprecedented weakening of our armed forces.

‘Senior military figures have warned the government about this hollowing out of our armed forces but they refuse to take defence seriously.

‘Under the Tories, the army is the smallest it has been since the Napoleonic wars and as a nation we are only just meeting Nato’s minimum spending requirements.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, pictured far right with soldiers from the British Army's training unit in Kenya.

‘Defence spending would be even lower if the government hadn’t started including expenditure such as pension contributions in the budget. Our nation’s defence requires more than statistical sleight of hand.

‘This is happening now: we have already seen the Conservatives scrap HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier Jump Jets, and reports are that our amphibious capability will be next.’

The news comes amid reports today that Tory defence minister Tobias Ellwood would quit his role in government if cuts are imposed on the army which could see it lose 12,000 soldiers.

Mr Ellwood, the minister responsible for defence personnel and veterans, is understood to have concerns about proposals which could see the army’s full-time strength reduced to 70,000.

The Tory MP, who was lauded for his heroism during the Westminster terror attack earlier this year, is reported to have shared his ‘deep discomfort’ with colleagues about a list of cost-saving options faced by the Ministry of Defence, The Times reported.

A Whitehall source quoted by the newspaper said the Ministry of Defence was ‘beginning to try and push back’ against the cuts.

The MoD said no decisions had been made and dismissed reports about the options being considered as ‘speculation’.

But Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was said to be shocked by the ‘completely awful’ headline proposals drawn up by military chiefs, according to a Times source.

The comments were revealed just days after the defence secretary said he was committed to saving 1,000 Royal Marines from being axed and to preserving HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.

He intends to press the chancellor for £2bn more to be pumped into the defence budget.

But retired First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Alan West said defence spending should have been increased years ago and that the current situation was a scandal.

‘The hollowing out of our armed forces since 2010 has led to the rationale for that to be called into doubt by a number of our allies,’ the Labour peer said.

‘Defence does not get the attention it deserves, despite successive prime ministers and the current chancellor mouthing the mantra that the defence and security of our nation and our people is the first duty of any Government. Do they really believe it?

‘In (this week’s) budget we saw no plans to increase defence spending – it was not even mentioned. The government do not seem to care about the damage being done.’

During her election campaign, PM Theresa May vowed the Tories would spend a minimum of two per cent GDP on defence.

As well as meeting this baseline figure set out by Nato, the Conservative manifesto committed the party to increasing defence spending above inflation every year of the next parliament.

This would mean that defence spending will increase by at least half-a-per-cent every year, even if the UK is in recession or the economy is hit by the country’s exit from the EU.