Portsmouth reservists could be called for a year of service from next month amid no-deal Brexit fears

MILITARY reservists from Portsmouth could be called up for a year of active service under an emergency plan by the government to cope with a no-deal Brexit.

Friday, 18th January 2019, 11:43 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:48 pm
Reservist soldiers from 4th Battalion, The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (4PWRR) based in Cosham, during a training weekend at Longmoor army base in April. The unit is among those that could be mobilised nationally by the government for a year amid concerns of a no-deal Brexit. PHOTO: Tom Cotterill

The order, published this morning, would allow Whitehall to place reserve units on active service for a year from February 10.

It comes just weeks after defence secretary Gavin Williamson said 3,500 soldiers and reservists would be ‘held at readiness’ to help in the event Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

Announcing the move mobilise Britain’s reserve soldiers, defence minister Mark Lancaster said: ‘Reserve forces will be on standby to deliver a range of defence outputs such as: reinforcement of regular sub-units, liaison officer roles and the provision of specialist skills.

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Soldiers from 4th Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment taking part in an exercise in Denmark in September. Picture: Corporal Ben Beale

‘A particularly important role may be the planned reinforcement of regional points of command, to enable their 24/7 operation and resilience.

‘We would also expect reserves to be drawn upon to support the implementation of contingency plans developed by other government departments.’

Reservists will make up around 10 per cent of the 3,500 military personnel held at readiness ahead of the scheduled Brexit date on March 29.

Portsmouth is a hub of reserve bases with army units based in Cosham and Hilsea, and a Royal Navy reserve unit located on Whale Island.

The order, made under section 56 (1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, will be in place from next month until February 9, 2020.

Under the Reserve Forces Act, the defence secretary can call on members of a reserve force to assist on operations outside the UK or ‘anywhere in the world’ if it is ‘necessary or desirable’.

Section 56 (1B) states that this can be done ‘for the alleviation of distress or the preservation of life or property in time of disaster or apprehended disaster’.

It is understood the order is not in response to any particular concern, and that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not received any request for troops to be used by any other government departments in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

But the official announcement has been met with condemnation.

Nia Griffith, shadow defence secretary, told The News: ‘It beggars belief that the government is wasting our armed forces reservists’ time and resources, just to pretend that “no deal” is an option.

‘The government is trying to blackmail the country and MPs to support May’s botched deal, using the prospect of no deal chaos.

‘This is the latest instance of the government allocating resources to an outcome that simply isn’t an option. No deal chaos can and will be stopped in parliament.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, also slammed the news. He said: ‘Our dedicated armed forces and reservists are already stretched and resources under huge strain.

‘They are in place to protect us from external security threats. They are not in place to bolster government departments struggling as a result of this prime minister’s poor leadership.’

However, a retired army chief has told The News the plans by the government seemed like a ‘logical’ approach..

Experienced infantry officer Lieutenant Colonel Chris Parker, who grew up on Cowplain and once commanded the 8,000-strong Desert Rats in the Middle East, said: ‘This seems unusual but very logical forward planning by the MoD.

‘The prime aim is for regional crisis centres that once mobilised would be able to help cope 24/7 with any requirements encountered immediately post Brexit.’