James Heappey discusses defence budget
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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has warned that the world was becoming “much more dangerous and unstable” and highlighted the need for the UK to increase its defence budget. The Ministry of Defence has reportedly asked the Treasury to increase its budget by £10billion to help meet the country’s long-term military need. Yet a new Express.co.uk poll has found a staggering 94 percent of readers do not think this is enough.
Mr Wallace said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had exposed vulnerabilities across Europe, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the British Army has been “hollowed out” over the last 30 years.
The Sunday Times reports that the Ministry of Defence has asked Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to raise its budget by as much as a fifth over the next two years. Mr Wallace admitted it is an “uphill battle” to secure additional funding.
He added that while it is important for the UK not to “break our own fiscal discipline”, it is the “right thing” for a department to argue for an increased budget to “meet their priorities”.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, said that the UK’s security is “increasingly vulnerable” due to “stagnated” defence spending. He told the Daily Express: “Year on year, the threat picture is progressively deteriorating but defence spending has stagnated meaning our security and indeed economy are looking increasingly vulnerable.”
In a poll that ran from 1.30pm on Thursday, February 16, to midday on Friday, February 17, Express.co.uk asked readers: “Is £10billion enough to boost UK defence budget?”
In total, 1,654 readers responded, with the overwhelming majority, 94 percent (1,551 people), answering “no” £10billion is not enough.
In contrast, five percent (81 people) said “yes” it was, while one percent (22 people) said they did not know either way.
Dozens of comments were left below the accompanying article as readers debated how much Mr Wallace’s department should be given.
Many readers commented that the UK needed to prioritise its defence spending. Username ance7 said: “Give Mr Wallace the tools, now!”
Another, username Bardar wrote: “We have left ourselves vulnerable over many years by cutting defence spending to ridiculously low levels. It will now take huge money and investment in our armed services to bring them up to strength.”
Username ja50 agreed, commenting: “Defence is our insurance policy but successive governments have reduced our cover to the absolute minimum as it was deemed an unnecessary expense.
“To be honest there should be a complete review of all our Armed Forces to ensure that we are prepared for any eventuality and have the personnel and the equipment for them to do the job.”
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Yet other readers were more cautious about giving Mr Wallace’s department extra funding. Username Ajay202 wrote: “It depends on what you want the Armed Forces to do and where we are prepared to cut public spending and suck it up to afford it.”
While username phil.l said: “It depends on what they spend it on. If they waste it on bureaucrats or large ships it will not go far.”
Without further investment, Britain is at risk of falling behind France as NATO’s foremost military power in Europe. Research by thinktank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) into the strength of armed forces around the world has shown France has more combat aircraft, frigates and troops than Britain despite spending less.
A senior IISS researcher told The Times: “France and Germany have militaries that are in some respects larger. The UK has a pretty capable navy and air force. Across its forces, it’s also well-balanced between combat support [and] logistics in a way that not many other expeditionary armed forces are. But they’re now very, very small, and they can’t be in two places at once.”
They continued: “Ukraine poses uncomfortable questions in terms of the size of the British stockpiles of spare parts and ammunition and its ability to sustain a high intensity of combat. It also poses uncomfortable questions for the army, which is much less modernised than the navy or the air force.
“I’d say the jury’s out. If the plans the MoD has come to fruition, some of these deficits will be tackled but not all whether they’ll be tackled quickly enough, that’s an open question.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has put in place a multi-year plan to boost defence spending by a third to protect France yet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly reluctant to follow.
The Treasury highlighted the Ministry of Defence’s recent history of wasteful procurement, yet Mr Hunt said in his Autumn Statement that he and Mr Sunak “recognise the need to increase defence spending”.
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