Treasury Threat to UK Security
There have been a growing number of articles in national newspapers speculating on the cuts that might be made in Britain’s defence capability as a result of the shambles that Labour left behind, both in the national finances and the Ministry of Defence equipment programmes. Commentators have suggested that the RAF may have to chose between its Tornado fleet of fighter jets and the joint Harrier force that it shares with the Royal Navy and which provides air cover for the fleet. Some have suggested that the Navy’s new aircraft carriers should be scrapped or that the Army will lose most of its heavy tanks.
The Treasury had already asked the MOD to identify cuts of 10-20% in defence spending at the same time as the Defence Secretary has commissioned a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). It should be remembered that the armed forces have already been cut massively following the end of the Cold War and a conflict still rages in Afghanistan. Just to balance the books and put the equipment programme on a sustainable basis would entail some cuts in planned programmes and cause real pain to our armed forces.
The latest news is that the Treasury has now reversed previous practice by refusing to fund the capital cost of the Trident replacement programme over and above the MOD budget. Any replacement will have to come out of planned defence spending totals, placing a further big strain on the budget. SDSR should be a policy led review, considering what the UK wants from its armed forces and providing the resources to meet those requirements. It is looking increasing likely that it is a Treasury led exercise, seeking to cut the forces to match a greatly reduced defence budget.
It is beyond doubt that a large part of the UK’s international influence comes from the capability of our armed forces and our willingness as a nation to use them. This is key to our relationship with the USA and important to our allies around the world. We also have responsibilities for British subjects in overseas territories in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific. Without the ability to defend them against potential aggressors we would have abrogated our responsibilities.
When Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979 following the years of economic chaos under Edward Heath and Labour, her Government pledged to increase defence spending by 3% per year in real terms. This was achieved despite the poor economic circumstances and the increases were maintained year on year until 1986. Conservatives believe that the fundamental duty of a government is to maintain external and internal security. Defence is obviously a key element of this.
A Conservative Government should not be cutting defence spending at a time when our forces are engaged in combat operations overseas and insisting that Trident replacement is funded from the core defence budget is a backdoor cut. I fear that further cuts are to come and that the result will be a greatly weakened nation even more subject to the whims of others.
I hope that Conservative MPs will lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that the Prime Minister will add his weight to the Comprehensive Spending Review to ensure that Defence is spared further cuts. To do otherwise would be a catastrophic decision for our nation and a failure of the first duty of government.