By Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor, Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor, Lucy Fisher
The Times – 7 December 2017
The influential chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee gave his backing to the Defence Secretary today in a row with the Treasury over the departmental budget.
The Tory MP Julian Lewis urged Gavin Williamson to prepare for a “bare-knuckle fight with the Treasury”, adding:
“If he wins that fight he will deserve our total support.”
Cuts to defence funding in recent years have left the Ministry of Defence with an “utterly inadequate” budget, Mr Lewis said.
“Years after we took the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War we were still spending 3 per cent of GDP on defence,”
he told Sky News. At present defence spending is ring-fenced at 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, had queried Mr Williamson’s understanding of the military yesterday.
Downing Street made clear that it wanted to stay out of the feud between the pair as Mr Hammond claimed that there was “no greater champion of defence than me”. Appearing before MPs Mr Hammond suggested that he would welcome a chance to discuss the defence budget with Mr Williamson, who was promoted from chief whip last month, once he properly understood the figures.
“There is no greater champion of defence than me. I was Defence Secretary for almost three years. I am a huge advocate for our armed forces,”
“There is no question of the defence budget being cut. The defence budget is being increased, but I recognise also that defence is facing some pressures, particularly around currency movement. A lot of defence procurement is denominated in US dollars.
“I expect that once he has had a chance to understand the situation in the Ministry of Defence, and to get his head around the defence budget, the new defence secretary will be wanting to come and talk to me and he will find no one more sympathetic to the challenges of defence than me.”
The comments came after allies of Mr Hammond likened Mr Williamson, 41, to Private Pike from Dad’s Army in a Sunday newspaper article, and defence sources revealed yesterday that the chancellor had been banned from RAF flights until he paid for past trips.
The Times reported that Mr Hammond used BAe 146 jets and A109 helicopters to fly to more than 20 destinations this year on official business. The Treasury is said to owe a six-figure sum for past flights with No 32 (The Royal) Squadron.
One minister said that the two ministers were behaving like “eight-year-olds squabbling in the playground” and added:
“Theresa May must intervene.”
Mrs May’s official spokesman made clear to reporters that she did not want to get involved.
Last night Mr Williamson repeated his call for British citizens who have fought for Islamic State to be refused re-entry to the country and said that everything should be done “to destroy and eliminate that threat”. He told the Daily Mail:
“Quite simply, my view is a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”