Government must rethink Army cuts amid growing threat from Russia
Labour wants to hold the Prime Minister to his manifesto pledge and will force a vote in Parliament, calling on the government to rethink its plans to cut our Armed Forces.
The Prime Minister promised at the launch of the Conservative’s 2019 election manifesto that they would “not be cutting the armed services in any form”. Yet his government last month produced a Defence Command Paper that includes plans to reduce the full-time established strength of the Army from 82 500 to 72,000 by 2025. Leaving us with the smallest British Army since 1714.
Before the government’s review was published, ex-chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Richards, said that further cuts to the Army would mean the UK was no longer taken seriously as a military power, and that this would damage our relationship with the US and our position in NATO. This warning from the man who was previously this country’s most senior military commander has been ignored.
This latest reduction in the size of the Army may be the most high-profile cut to our Armed Forces but is by no means the only one announced by the government.
Ministers risk repeating their mistakes of the past ten years. Labour wants to stop this from happening
The size of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet will drop from 19 to 17 in the next 18 months, with the early retirement of two Type-23 frigates; the RAF that have left only seven frontline fighter squadrons, after the retirement of the first tranche of Typhoons; while the E-3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft will be retired this year with its replacement (E7 Wedgetail) not arriving until 2023, so we will be reliant on NATO allies to spot adversaries testing our air defences.
These cuts to the Armed Forces come at the same time as the government has said that state threats to the U.K. and its allies are growing and diversifying.
Indeed, since the government published its review, the heightened Russian threat has been highlighted the big build-up of Russian troops on the border of eastern Ukraine. The NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg has expressed “serious concern about Russia’s military activities in and around Ukraine and ongoing ceasefire violations”.
The government’s new cuts come after a ‘decade of decline’, which has seen the defence budget cut by £8 billion and UK’s full-time Forces cut by 45,000 since 2010. The Prime Minister calls this the ‘era of retreat’ and said he wanted to put an end to it. Instead, Ministers risk repeating their mistakes of the past ten years. Labour wants to stop this from happening.
The government says threats to the UK are increasing yet they plan fewer troops, fewer ships, fewer planes over the next few years. Ministers must square this circle and back off yet more cuts to the strength of our Armed Forces.
Labour wants to hold the Prime Minister to his pledge not to cut our Armed Forces. Keeping our country safe is the first duty of any government and Boris Johnson made this important promise to our forces personnel and to the nation.
So today Labour will force a vote in Parliament, calling on the government to rethink its plans for reductions in the size and capability of our Armed Forces.
John Healey is the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne and shadow defence secretary.