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Keir Starmer Accuses Boris Johnson Of Breaking Promise Not To Cut Armed Forces

Boris Johnson was criticised for plans to cut troop numbers by 10,000 in the new integrated review (Parliamentlive.TV)

4 min read

Sir Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson "can't be trusted to protect our armed forces," after the integrated review will see troop numbers fall "to its lowest level in 300 years”.

The Prime Minister claims the government plans to “increase spending on our armed services by the biggest amount since the Cold War” with a £24billion investment in modernising.

He also said there will be “no redundancies” and troop numbers will stay at 100,000 “if you include the reserves”.

But at a Prime Minister's Questions session dominated by uncertainty over the future of the armed forces, Starmer accused Johnson of "playing with the numbers”, and challenged him to put his plans to a vote in Parliament.

The Labour leader asked the PM why he promised at the 2019 election not to cut the UK's armed forces in light of the decision this week to reduce troop numbers by 10,000 to 72,500 by 2025.

Johnson dismissed Starmer's accusation claiming that when you include reserve troop numbers, "not only did we keep our promise in the manifesto”, but the Conservatives also increased defence spending beyond their manifesto pledge.

Johnson also said he welcomed Labour's "new spirit of jingo” after criticising Starmer for standing “on a manifesto to elect a man who wanted to pull this country out of Nato”, a reference to his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, adding: "They don't like it up 'em, Mr Speaker."

Starmer accused him of “fighting the last war”, and produced an article from The Sun saying Johnson had promised the newspaper “he will not make any new cuts to the Armed Forces”, and pledged to maintain troop numbers at their current level of 82,000.

"Now I know the Prime Minister has got form for making up quotes, but can he tell us – does he think the newspapers have somehow misquoted him or does he now remember making that promise?” he asked.

Johnson replied: "Yes because there will be no redundancies in our armed forces and I said to him if you include reserves we are even keeping the Army at 100,000.

"But on top of that we are doing what is necessary to modernise our armed forces."

Starmer hit back: "He knows very well that the numbers have been cut. The trouble is, you just can't trust the Conservatives to protect our armed forces."

He added: "The 2015 manifesto - 'we will maintain the size of the regular armed services', the 2017 manifesto - 'we will maintain the overall size of the armed forces', 2019 - the Prime Minister - 'we will not be cutting our armed services in any form'.

"But the truth is, since 2010 our armed forces have been cut by 45,000 and our Army will now be cut to its lowest level in 300 years."

The Labour leader said “there's a pattern here”, accusing the PM of giving nurses a pay cut and “putting taxes up for families”.

"So if the Prime Minister is so proud of what he's doing, so determined to push ahead, why doesn't he at least have the courage to put this cut in the armed forces to a vote in this House?" he added. Johnson defended the government's record on the NHS, despite recent criticism that pay increases for health service staff have been insifficient. 

"He talks about nurses and investment in the NHS, I'm proud of the massive investment that we've made in the NHS,” Johnson continued. 

"We're getting on with the job of recruiting more police, 20,000 more police, I think we've done 7,000 already, while they're out on the streets at demonstrations shouting 'Kill the Bill'.

"That's the difference between his party and my party. We're pro-vax, we're low tax and when it comes to defence, we've got your backs."

But he was chided by the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who said: "Can I just say, I genuinely mean this, I do not believe any Member of Parliament would support that 'Kill the Bill'.

"I've got to be very careful – I say we are all united in this House in the support and the protection that the police do offer us and nobody would shy away from that."

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