Theresa May clashes with MoD over 'challenge to Britain’s ‘tier one’ military status’
Theresa May reportedly sparked “shockwaves” at a Ministry of Defence meeting by calling on Gavin Williamson to justify Britain's role as a “tier one” military power.
The Prime Minister is said to have urged the Defence Secretary to rethink the capabilities needed to be a modern military force, instead emphasising the need to prepare for cyber warfare amid the growing threat from Russia.
The intervention risks throwing off the work done so far as part of the department’s armed forces modernisation plan, which has been underway since January.
And it comes ahead of next month’s crucial Nato summit, in which Donald Trump is expected to ramp up the pressure on allies to fork out more in military spending.
The Financial Times reports that some officials saw Mrs May’s proposals as appearing to question Britain’s role among the world’s military elite, with one official disclosing that people “had their head in their hands”.
Another source briefed on the talks, told the paper that Mrs May made her intervention near the end of the meeting, after General Sir Nick Carter, the new chief of the defence staff, set out the threats the UK is facing, with a particular focus on Russia.
It comes amid mounting pressure on the Government to boost the funding available for defence, with the department set for a cash shortfall of up to £20bn over the next decade, according to a National Audit Office report.
Ministers have committed to spending a further £178bn on new defence equipment over the next ten years, however Mr Williamson and military chiefs are said to be pushing for a further boost.
The paper adds that MoD officials are now urgently working on a paper that will define what it is to be a "top-tier power" alongside the US, Russia, China and France - given it lacks a formal definition.
A Downing Street spokesman admitted Mr Williamson’s plans had been challenged, but denied claims the PM was arguing for a reduction in the UK military’s status.
“It is categorically untrue to suggest that the UK’s current position as a leading defence nation is somehow in question,” a spokesman said.
“The prime minister is strongly committed to the United Kingdom’s armed forces and to maintaining their strength and their ability to deter and where necessary defeat the threats we face."
A second Government official with knowledge of the meeting, told the FT: “The PM was simply asking, ‘Are you sure this is the right way to proceed’?”