CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'MPs WARN MAY NOT TO RISK DEFENCE BUDGET CUTS'

By Dominic Nicholls

Daily Telegraph – 9 June 2018

Defence spending must be increased to combat the rise in chemical and biological threats, MPs have told Theresa May. New threats, including cyber-attacks, risk "undermining UK national security" unless the defence budget is increased. In a letter to Mrs May, the heads of the Public Accounts and Defence Committees have said they are

"concerned that new commitments and emerging threats means the budget will not deliver all that is promised".

Meg Hillier and Julian Lewis, the committee chairmen, have written jointly to highlight their increasing concerns about the budgetary pressures faced by the Ministry of Defence.

"Such concerns are not simply about balancing the books,"

the letter warns.

"The very real effects of inadequate funding can be seen in the extremely worrying decline in morale amongst our Armed Forces."

The letter follows a recent warning from the Chief of Defence Intelligence that Britain's enemies are increasingly flouting the rules of war. Air Marshal Phil Osborn said that the UK's adversaries view today's battlespace as

"layered – across physical and virtual, legal and illegal"

and admitted the country has "miscalculated" the pace at which threats are changing, leaving Britain vulnerable to attack.

The warning from the Select Committee heads is informed by inquiry findings of both committees and follows the Prime Minister's appearance at the liaison committee in March where she reiterated the need for the MoD to make efficiency savings. A report last month from the Public Accounts Committee highlighted a gap in the Defence Equipment Plan of at least £4.9billion over the next 10 years. This could increase to £20.8billion "if all identified risks materialise".

"The existing affordability gap affecting traditional defence equipment and support programmes, combined with the intensification of new threats such as cyber, chemical and biological attacks, risk undermining UK national security as well as our ability to play an effective role in the world,"

the letter says. The Committee has previously highlighted a £2.9 billion gap in the Defence Nuclear Enterprise and the £8.5 billion required to maintain the defence estate over the next 30 years, where there has been "little or no investment for a decade".

Coming in advance of the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP), the review due to report in the summer, the letter warns the additional capabilities required to respond to new threats and undertake necessary reforms will not be possible from the current budget.

Johnny Mercer MP, a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, echoed the concerns in the joint letter. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph he worried the

"relationship between the military and the country has broken down"

and feared the MDP would not solve the funding crisis.

The letter cited numerous occasions whereby the Defence Select Committee has highlighted the "unrealistic and over-optimistic nature" of the MoD's savings targets, and specifically raised concerns over the uncertainty around the full costs of the F-35 jet programme, the first four of which arrived in the UK this week.