'DAVID CAMERON OPPOSES CUTTING SOLDIER NUMBERS AFTER NEXT ELECTION, HEAD OF ARMED FORCES REVEALS' [EXTRACT]

General Sir Nick Houghton pledges to 'fix my bayonet and fight to the last' against cuts as Tory MPs demand Cameron ring-fences defence spending in election manifesto

By Ben Riley-Smith, Political Correspondent

Telegraph Online – 9 November 2014

David Cameron opposes cutting the number of British soldiers after the next election, the head of the Armed Forces has said, as he pledged to "fix my bayonet and fight to the last" against further redundancies. General Sir Nick Houghton admitted financial pressures would remain when the next government takes office but pledged to oppose cuts to army numbers from "inside the system". Sir Nick said that government officials need to appreciate the "remarkable utility" of the British Army, pointing to how soldiers have helped secure the Olympic Games and fight Ebola in Africa. He also said that while international terror groups like Isil posed an "enduring" threat to Britain people should not "succumb" to their threats but instead carry on with life as normal.

The comments, which came during an interview on the BBC One's Andrew Marr Show on Remembrance Sunday, are likely to reignite a row over the Conservatives' protection of defence spending after the election. The Tories have so far failed to promise that 2 per cent of Britain's GDP will be spent on defence beyond 2015 – a key commitment by NATO members. Months after taking power the Coalition announced regular army numbers would be cut from 102,000 to 82,000. Another strategic review is planned for after the 2015 election, triggering fears of further reductions.

Tory MPs and retired generals told the Telegraph last night Mr Cameron must put a promise to keep defence spending above 2 per cent of GDP in the Tories' manifesto, saying anything else would be "dangerous and deplorable".

Speaking to Andrew Marr, Sir Nick suggested Mr Cameron privately did not want soldier numbers to drop below 82,000.

“I know the Prime Minister does not want again to cut the physical manpower of the Armed Forces. But there is of course still further fiscal consolidation to face and we are well aware of that … I think we are good value for money and I will quietly, from inside the system, fix my bayonet and fight to the last,"

… The comments follow a series of high-profile clashes between military figures and ministers over the last parliament about cuts to defence spending. The Coalition announced in 2010 it would reduce defence spending by eight per cent, with 42,000 Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces jobs being axed.

Last night Tory backbenchers demanded Mr Cameron promise before the election that the [Army] will not drop below 82,000 and defence spending will remain above 2 per cent of GDP if he remains in Downing Street.

Julian Lewis, a former Shadow Defence Minister who serves on the Commons Defence Committee, said:

"It would be utterly irresponsible for Britain to dip below the very modest two per cent of GDP NATO target. Doing so would be both dangerous and deplorable."

Adam Holloway, a Tory MP who served with the Grenadier Guards in the Gulf War, said:

"If we ring fence any spending at all it should be towards our first duty, which is the protection and security of our people. Quite clearly it is insane to be spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development that is not even directly linked to Britain's national interest and to continue to cut our Armed Forces."

Col Richard Kemp, the former British commander in Afghanistan, echoed the calls, saying front line cuts would undermine morale and endanger troops …