Ex-minister leads fight to stop defence cuts
A CABINET minister sacked by David Cameron will lead a new battle to stop further cuts to the Armed Forces this week, amid warnings that Britain will be unable to defend itself if funding falls again.
Owen Paterson, who is seen as the standard-bearer for the Tory Right-wing, will use a speech in America to accuse the government of “succumbing to temptation” by outsourcing national defence to the European Union and Nato.
At a time when Vladimir Putin is threatening Europe, and Islamist terrorists are engaged in “barbaric slaughter” in the Middle East, the Government must “provide the necessary funds” to defend British citizens, he will say.
He will also warn that this approach risks damaging the “special relationship” with the United States, arguing: “Today Britain is not holding up its part of the defence bargain.”
Last night, Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to quell the revolt over the defence budget, insisting that the Forces will get the funds they need. He
added that the Prime Minister had promised not to cut the number of full-time regular military personnel.
The intervention from Mr Paterson, who served as both Northern Ireland and environment secretary before being sacked in the last reshuffle, will reignite the row over Tory plans for defence in the runup to May’s general election.
Mr Paterson will set out his concerns in a speech to the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in Washington. He will praise America for spending 4 per cent of its national budget on defence.
By contrast Britain is letting the transatlantic alliance down, he will say.
Scores of Tory MPs, and senior commanders, are privately dismayed that the party has failed to rule out further cuts to defence. In particular, they fear the Conservatives will fail to meet Nato’s target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence in future years.
Last night, Admiral Lord West, the Falklands War vet- eran, said he was deeply worried about Britain’s future ability to defend itself against aggression from Russia after independent analysts said funding could fall to 1.4 per cent by 2020.
He will single out Russia as a particularly grave threat.
“Putin’s economy is now on a war footing. He is spending 42 per cent more on nuclear weapons, spending more on defence equipment, yet the economy is a basket case.
“If I were still chief of defence intelligence I would be telling the MoD that Russia thinks there might be a war within five years.”
The Prime Minister has tried to calm the row by assuring critics he does not want to see any further reductions in the numbers of full-time, or “regular” service personnel.
Under Coalition cuts, the Army is being reduced from 102,000 to 82,000, while an additional 30,000 reservists are being recruited. But Mr Fallon told The Sun
day Telegraph that the Tories were committed to defence. “It is an absolute promise: the Armed Forces will get the resources and equipment they need and the regulars will not be cut further. We are spending 2 per cent at the moment. We are going to be spending 2 per cent again next year.”
2pc Nato target for proportion of
budget spent on defence