Gavin Williamson warned Government will face ‘substantial rebellion’ if defence cuts go ahead
Tory backbenchers have warned the new Defence Secretary he faces a "substantial rebellion" over cuts to the armed forces.
Reports surfaced over the weekend that the UK’s national security adviser is pushing for greater investment in fighting cyber-attacks, meaning conventional defence could face more cuts.
MPs and ministers have apparently voiced frustration at the decision not to lift the military's annual £36bn budget.
The MoD is understood to have been given until the end of the year to contribute its ideas towards the national security review.
It comes as new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is set to meet Philip Hammond to push for an extra £2bn a year for his department to prevent more cuts.
Today, as Mr Williamson stood at the despatch box for the first time as Defence Secretary, Tory MP James Gray urged him to intervene in order to avoid a “significant rebellion”.
“Will he please speak to the Prime Minister and remind her that her primary duty is the defence of the realm? Will he speak to the national security advisor and the secretary of state for the Cabinet Office and remind them that they must not use this review as some kind of camouflage to cut our services?
“Will he speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that he digs deep in his pockets to produce the money we need? And above all will he speak to his right honourable friend the Chief Whip to remind him that if he does not do so he is going to be facing a very substantial rebellion?”
Former soldier and Defence committee member Johnny Mercer also warned of a rebellion, claiming he had 30 Tories ready to oppose the Government.
He told the Daily Politics: “We have about 30 MPs now who are prepared to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on defence but, look, it’ not about a rebellion, it’s not about individuals, this is about making sure that we arrive at the right answer when it comes to defence.
“The security review doesn’t go to a vote so we need to be pretty sort of clever about how we go about this, my initial position has been to make it very clear to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor and to the MoD that there is a group of backbench Conservative MPs who are prepared to hold the Government to account on defence.”
Elsewhere former defence committee chair Julian Lewis told the Commons: “In the cold war years we spent 5% of GDP on defence. Now we spend barely 2% of GDP on defence and perhaps a target nearer 3% of GDP on defence might prevent our armed forces being further hollowed out.”
Mr Williamson responded: “I have always seen 2% as a base as against a ceiling and I will certainly be taking on board his thoughts and comments going forward.”
Yesterday former defence secretary Liam Fox admitted there were “tensions” in the MoD about defence spending cuts.
"There’s a review going on at the present time and I think back to my time as secretary of state for defence where we had a similar review ongoing and there’s always a lot of tension,” he told Sky News.
“Not just between the MoD and the Treasury but also inside the MoD between the different parts of the armed forces and naturally there are concerns about the future shape of that.”
On Saturday Defence minister Tobias Ellwood threatened to resign if the cuts go ahead.
Around 25 Tories wrote to Philip Hammond ahead of his budget last week, urging him to increase defence spending.