Minister threatens to resign over defence cuts
Veterans minister Tobias Ellwood has threatened to resign if sweeping cuts to the military go ahead.
According to a report by The Times, Mr Ellwood, the minister responsible for personnel and veterans, told colleagues of his “deep discomfort” with the plans, which were drawn up by military chiefs in a Cabinet Office review.
The cost-saving measures would see troop numbers cut by 12,000, bringing the number of soldiers to below 70,000, the lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.
The review, headed by diplomat Mark Sedwill, would see cuts of £100 million made to the armed forces over 12 months, with resources shifted towards the intelligence services and cyberwarfare and away from conventional forces.
Army plans to develop a 30,000 strong warfighting division could be put in jeopardy by the plans, which would also see new frigates and F-35 fighter jets face the axe.
A Whitehall source told The Times that Gavin Williamson, promoted to Defence Secretary just three weeks ago, was shocked by the review’s “completely awful” proposals.
The review is likely to increase pressure on Philip Hammond, who has come under fire from Conservative colleagues for his reluctance to loosen the Treasury’s purse strings.
“Right across the Conservative Party there is anxiety about the proposals and the impact they would have on Britain’s ability to defend itself in a time of increasing global threats as well as to contribute to Nato and affect the international agenda,” a source told The Times.
“There is a need to mobilise every effort to convince the Treasury to wake up to the consequences of these cuts”.
While the Budget promised some spending increases, including £3 billion for Brexit contingency planning, little mention was made of defence or the armed forces.
Gen Sir Richard Barrons, the former commander of joint forces command, warned last week that the armed forces would face breaking point unless the government plugged a £2 billion spending black hole.
Mr Williamson and Mr Ellwood will be expected to comment on the review on Monday, when they face defence questions in the Commons.