By Jack Doyle, Executive Political Editor
Daily Mail – 30 October 2018
Military chiefs were handed £1billion by Philip Hammond yesterday to help fend off cuts to the Armed Forces. Together with an £800million cash injection in March, it makes Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson one of the big winners from the Budget. The cash will be used for cyber warfare capabilities, for anti-submarine measures and to ensure Dreadnought, the replacement for the Trident nuclear missile programme, remains on track.
Ministers had warned there could be cuts to warships, troops and fighter planes unless more money was found to fill the black hole in the Ministry of Defence's budget. Military chiefs and politicians welcomed the spending boost last night but Tory MPs warned the money was little more than a sticking plaster.
Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said it amounted to
“throwing a life belt to someone who is otherwise drowning, but not yet pulling him on board in order to save his life”.
“I understand that even after the extra money, we will be still spending 2.11 per cent of GDP on defence. A little progress has been made in the foothills but we still have most of the mountain to climb.”
Mr Hammond told the Commons that as a former Defence Secretary he understood the immediate pressures on the Armed Forces. And in a nod to the Salisbury chemical attack, he said the last year had provided
“stark reminders of the scale, scope and complexity of the threats we face”.
The Chancellor added:
“Nobody should be in any doubt that on this side of the House we are proud of our Armed Forces and we will always back them with the investment they need to keep this country safe.”
The cash will be seen as a victory for Mr Williamson, who has spent his first year in the job publicly lobbying for more money. He infuriated No 10 this summer after reportedly threatening to bring the Prime Minister down if she did not agree to spending increases ... Last night Mr Williamson said:
“Not only will this funding ensure we continue to have world-leading Armed Forces but will also allow defence to modernise our critical assets, such as our offensive cyber capabilities, anti-submarine warfare and our nuclear deterrent. The extra £1billion for defence on top of the £800million increase this summer represents a substantial financial boost and reaffirms our commitment to protecting national security.”
His predecessor as Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said the extra cash was a welcome step but not enough. He told ministers he would like to see the Government adopt a higher target of 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of this parliament.
“The threats have multiplied in the last year or so and the budget needs to be increased accordingly,”
he said. But the former head of the Royal Navy, Labour peer Admiral Lord West of Spithead, said that the cash – although welcome – will not stop the “hollowing out” of the Armed Forces.
“It doesn't resolve the problem that we have of hollowing out – which is a real problem. That is why frigates aren't at sea, the Army and the tanks are a mess, and exercises are being affected. It doesn't really address all the other problems within defence.”
A full review of defence spending is expected to conclude next year. Estimates suggest there is a black hole in the MoD budget of least £20billion over the next decade. Defence sources said Mr Williamson saw the result as a “significant win” and would ensure there were no cuts to military capabilities.