Troop and tank cuts going ahead despite defence spending boost, signals minister

Army tanks will still be scrapped and soldier numbers slashed despite a £5billion boost for defence, the Tories signalled today.

Government Minister Baroness JoJo Penn indicated the Conservatives were ploughing on with cuts outlined in a March 2021 defence review.

The blueprint formed the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s defence policy – slashing 9,000 soldiers, taking troop numbers from 82,000 to 73,000, and scrapping a third of the Army’s 227 Challenger 2 tanks.

The remaining 148 will be upgraded to Challenger 3 versions.

This week’s Integrated Review Refresh was silent on whether the cuts would be reversed following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

While military experts await details in a Defence Command Paper in June, Tory peer Baroness Penn signalled the cuts would not be reversed.

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The number fo Challenger 2 tanks is being cut by a third
BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)

Labour former Defence Secretary Lord John Reid urged her to “confirm that as far as the Treasury knows, our armed forces, over the next few years, will reduce the number of soldiers, reduce the number of ships and reduce the number of planes”.

Baroness Penn told the Lords: “The vision for the future of our defence that we set out in the original Integrated Review remains the vision for defence that we have set out in this country.

“But there is additional resource that has come in as a result of the Integrated Review Refresh to reflect the new circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Earlier, she shrugged off calls for the UK to spend 3% of GDP on defence – up from just 2.12% now.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged a rise to 2.5%, but refused to say when the new target will be hit.

Former head of the Royal Navy Admiral Lord West told peers: “Everybody knows our defence forces have been under-funded for some considerable time and are not in the position they should be.

“One could argue quite reasonably that’s part of the reason we are in the mess we are in with a war going on in Ukraine, because autocrats like Putin watched what we do and thought, ‘These people aren’t taking life seriously’.

Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord
Rowan Griffiths/Sunday Mirror)

The ex-First Sea Lord added: “The Government should make a clear statement and commitment of going for 3% of GDP. … so that murderous people like Putin see that we mean business.”

Marshal of the RAF Lord Jock Stirrup, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, said: “As recently as 2010 we were spending 2.6% of GDP on defence.

“Recent announcements putting us on a trajectory to 2.5% really cannot be seen as scaling some new peak but rather as clawing us a little further out of the hole into which we have sunk.”

Tory former Defence Minister Lord Robathan accused the Government of offering “jam tomorrow”.

Tory former Defence Minister Lord Robathan

He added: “Has nobody noticed what’s happening in Ukraine?”

But Baroness Penn insisted: “We will move away from our baseline commitment of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence to a new aspiration of 2.5% when the fiscal situation allows.

“There are no plans to change this aspiration to 3%.

“To ensure we continue to meet the threats we face, the Chancellor is providing £11bn over five years to ensure the country’s resilience and readiness.”

Less than £2bn is due this year.

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