Former Army chief Lord Houghton says UK 'living a lie' over defence capability and demands cash boost
A former boss of the Army today accused the Government of “living a lie” over military resources as he demanded a big defence cash boost.
General Sir Nicholas Houghton said ministers had “slightly deluded the public that we have a defence programme that... insiders know... is unaffordable”.
His comments come amid a furious Cabinet row over defence spending - with Theresa May and Philip Hammond pushing back against demands from Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for more cash.
This morning the Commons Defence Select Committee called for spending on the military to be upped to 3% of GDP rather than the Nato target of 2% the UK currently maintains.
Lord Houghton - who served as chief of the defence staff between 2013 and 2016 - said 3% was “not just what the armed forces need; it’s actually what the country needs”.
He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 that the defence plan the Government had laid out in 2015 was “wholly unaffordable” under current funding.
“We have slightly deluded the public of late that we have a defence programme which frankly we know, insiders know - those who run the select committees are aware - is unaffordable,” he said. “We are living a lie.”
He argued a failure to boost UK defence capabilities would “encourage Russia to be more aggressive”.
The military man fired a blast at the Prime Minister, as he suggested the MoD should see a spending uplift at least proportionate to its budget as the recently announced £20bn cash boost for the NHS will be to its own.
“More funding for health can win you, dare I say it, tactical advantage in domestic elections, but they don’t enhance Britain’s influence and power and respect in the world,” he jibed.
He also took a shot took a shot at Mr Williamson for telling Russia to “shut up and go away” in March, insisting: “Those wouldn’t have been my chosen words.”
And in a further snub to the Defence Secretary, he said: “It would be a great shame if the future of the defence budget and the armed forces of this country were part of a political game of power and ambition.”
At the weekend it was reported that Mr Williamson told army chiefs he could topple Theresa May if she refused to play ball over military funding.
“I made her - I can break her,” he is said to have declared at a private meeting.
3% FUNDING CALL
The report by the Defence Select Committee calls for the UK to spend 3% of its GDP on defence if is to continue "fruitful defence relations" with the United States.
"The Secretary of State has said that the UK benefits to the tune of £3 billion a year from the UK-US defence relationship," the MPs say.
"This implies that both the UK Armed Forces and HM Treasury benefit from our close relationship with the US.
"However, that will continue to be true only while the UK military retains both the capacity and capability to maintain interoperability with the US military and to relieve US burdens.
"For this to be the case the UK Armed Forces must be funded appropriately."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe