£1bn Budget pledge for British Armed Forces a ‘mere drop in the ocean’
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The former head of the Royal Navy has said Chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge of £1bn for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will not resolve the ‘hollowing out’ of Britain’s armed forces, with the gesture being described by one MP as a “mere drop in the ocean” in the face of what is needed for the UK defence sector.
The comments follow the chancellor’s statement yesterday, in which he announced that he will boost cyber capabilities, increase anti-submarine capacity, as well as maintaining the pace of the Dreadnought nuclear submarine programme within the defence industry, which was selected in May 2015 to replace the current four Vanguard-class submarines.
Although pleased that the pledge will allow the Dreadnought programme to move forward, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, the former head of the Royal Navy, said: “It doesn’t resolve the problem that we have of hollowing out, which is a real problem.
“That is why frigates aren’t at sea, the army and the tanks are a mess and exercises are being affected,” he added. “It doesn’t really address all the other problems within defence.”
According to defence secretary Gavin Williamson, the extra funding ensures that there are no cuts to military capabilities, an issue that Williamson lobbied for during his first year in the job. He said it will keep the MoD “buoyant for the next two years” as they “look at the long-term solutions in the comprehensive spending review”.
The cash boost for the defence sector comes amid demands to raise spending to three per cent of GDP - on top of the Ministry of Defence’s budget of around £20bn - over the next decade.
Lord West said the extra funding is just a fraction of what is needed for the military, highlighting how larger issues will need to be addressed at the spending review meeting next year, warning that if more expenditures aren’t added there is a “real, real problem for UK defence”.
In March, the government pledged another £800m for the defence industry, £600m of which was specified to help fund four new Trident nuclear submarines, bringing the total of funding for the military up to £1.8bn.
Having previously clashed with Williamson over military spending, the Chancellor told the Commons as he delivered the Autumn Budget on Monday that as a former defence secretary he understands the immediate pressures.
Other members of Parliament have addressed the issue, with former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon saying the extra cash is a “welcome step in a long-running campaign to readjust the Dreadnought budget in particular”.
When asked whether the funding is enough, he said: “No, I would like to see the Government adopt a new higher target now of 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by the end of Parliament. The threats have multiplied in the last year or so and the budget needs to be increased accordingly.”
However, other government officials have criticised the decision to increase the funding of the defence sector, with Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, saying the £1bn pledge is a “drop in the ocean compared to what the MoD actually needs”.
“I think what our armed forces are looking for is clarity on capabilities, especially because so many have had grey clouds hanging over them for in some cases over a year on whether they will be scrapped,” he said. “I don't think £1bn, although welcome, gives a reprieve to the army units, the Royal Navy ships or the aircraft that we know are under threat from MoD cuts.”
Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the cross-party House of Commons Defence Committee, described the extra cash as being a case of “one cheer out of three”.
“I could liken it to throwing a life belt to someone who is otherwise drowning, but not yet pulling him on board to save his life,” he said.
“I understand that even after the extra money, we will be still spending 2.11 per cent of GDP on defence. Although this is hopefully enough to stop us going backwards, it is only a temporary measure - or the first step on a long road in restoring defence to the sort proportion of GDP that it always used to be at.”
Welcoming the decision to add extra funding, Williamson said the extra £1bn – which will cover the MoD for the rest of this year and next – “represents a substantial boost”.
He said the move “reaffirms our commitment to protecting national security” and will allow the delivery of the existing plans set out within the 2015 Strategic Defence Review.
A significant contribution of the defence sector to the UK economy was laid out in a report published in July and was used by the defence secretary to argue for a larger military budget from the government.
The month before, a report from the Commons Defence Committee revealed that the UK military was being underfunded, saying the Government should start the process of raising the level of defence spending from 2 to 3 per cent of total GDP, and stating the Ministry of Defence is “too focused on identifying cyber risks” instead of “neutralising them”.