Defence cuts 'close to the bone'
Published 07/02/2013 | 20:26
The armed forces cannot afford any further spending cuts if Britain is to maintain its ability to project military power around the globe, a former defence minister has warned.
Sir Nick Harvey, who lost his job as armed forces minister in last year's reshuffle, said the forces risked being reduced to little more than a home guard if the defence budget was squeezed any further.
In an interview with Parliament's The House magazine, Sir Nick, a Liberal Democrat, said the Royal Navy already had too few warships to carry out all the tasks allotted to it. He also questioned whether the Treasury really would come up with the £20 billion needed to replace the Trident submarine fleet which carries Britain's nuclear deterrent.
His intervention comes after Downing Street was forced to admit last week that the Ministry of Defence would not be immune from further cuts in the 2015-16 spending review.
"You can cut and cut and cut and cut until there's nothing left, but you will cease to have coherence and you will cease to have the ability to deploy a worthwhile number in a conflict situation if you take it much further. We're pretty close to the bone anyway. I don't think we can take it any further," he said.
"If we all we wanted to do was to defend our shores you could move to a sort of home guard, but if we want to continue our international efforts to defend out global interests, and the UK does have global economic reach, there is a critical mass below which you cannot dip and still make a worthwhile contribution - and we're not far from it.
"We lost things we could not afford to lose already. The Royal Navy has got too few vessels in service, too little manpower, to execute the tasks already being asked of it."
Sir Nick said morale in the forces was already suffering in the face of the cuts implemented over the last two years - and it had was not helped that the latest round of redundancies in the Army came the day after the announcement that up to 350 personnel were being deployed to Africa in relation to operations in Mali.
"It's a pretty cruel bloody irony that the very next day his ministers are back in the Commons justifying the third tranches of the military redundancies. There was nothing new there, but in presentational terms (it was) a bit sub-optimal in term of Downing Street grid management," he said.
"You freeze pay. You cut allowances, you slash numbers. You work those who are left all the harder to make up for those who have gone. You throw in, for good measure, doubt about where people are going to be based, doubt about what their future pensions are going to look like," he said. "By the time you have compounded all those things together its just inevitable that morale is going to be suffering."