Row as 350 Navy redundancies announced

Defence Secretary Liam Fox was today accused of shirking responsibility for Government defence cuts as some 350 sailors were told they were being axed from the Royal Navy against their will.

Dr Fox sparked a furious response after he attacked military chiefs and senior officials in the Ministry of Defence for allowing the defence budget to run out of control.

In an interview with The Guardian he said that by the final days of Gordon Brown's Labour government there had been a "complete breakdown of trust" between the MoD and the rest of Whitehall.

"I think there had been a loss (of trust) and in the latter part of the Brown government there was an almost complete breakdown between the MoD and the Treasury and the MoD and No 10," he said.

"I think the MoD consistently dug a hole for itself that it eventually found that it could not climb out of. It is irritating to hear some of those who helped create the problem criticising us when we try to bring in a solution."

However shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said Dr Fox should take responsibility for his actions and not try to blame others for the cuts he was was now imposing on the armed forces.

"Liam Fox is not the victim but the author of his defence review, which has left holes in our equipment programme and is sacking thousands of service personnel, including those who have served on the front line," he said.

"Morale is already low - entering into a blame game will only make matters worse. We need solutions, not accusations.

"Savings must, of course, be made. However, the scale of cuts imposed on our armed forces is the choice of this Government and this Government alone."

Admiral Lord West, a former head of the Royal Navy, said that Dr Fox should be "a bit careful" about trying to pin the blame for the MoD's budget failings on the military top brass.

"When I appointed captains to ships I expected them to run that ship well. If they kept telling me how bad it was before, I sacked them," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The row broke as 1,020 Royal Navy personnel were told that they were being made redundant - around a third of them compulsorily - as part of the first round of military job losses.

Although some 810 sailors applied for redundancy, only 670 of them are being allowed to leave.

It was reported that personnel who risked their lives during the Libyan campaign - including crew members of HMS Cumberland, which helped rescue British citizens from the North African country in February - were among those being sacked.

Commodore Michael Mansergh, the head of Royal Navy manning at the MoD, acknowledged that it was a "painful process".

He told BBC News: "We have looked at the skills that we no longer require.

"We are doing what we are being asked to do which is to make sure the Navy is the right size for future operations."

However Lord West, who was a security minister in the Labour government, described the cuts as "dangerous" and warned the Navy would no longer have the "global reach" to meet its current commitments, such as protecting Britain's overseas dependencies.

"I think we are getting quite close to the stage where we might have to say: 'Well, we can't look after them properly, should be ask the French or the EU to look after them?"' he told BBC News.

The MoD stressed that nobody deployed on operations, preparing for operations or on post-tour leave on the day redundancy notices are issued was being forced out of their job.

Royal Marines, who form part of the Navy, are exempt from the current tranche of redundancies.

The plans to cut posts were announced earlier this year as part of a programme which could see 22,000 posts cut across the Royal Navy, Army and RAF by April 2015 in an effort to tackle the deficit and bring the defence budget under control.

Earlier this month about 920 soldiers and 930 RAF personnel were told they were being made redundant, 750 of them against their will.