The armed forces are in crisis and Britain's security could be put at risk because the Government's spending squeeze has left them struggling to cope with the demands upon them, David Cameron is being warned today.
The Commons Defence Select Committee has delivered a scathing rebuke to the Prime Minister's insistence that the country will still be able to mount a "full spectrum" of military operations once the spending cuts are complete. The criticism follows this week's disclosure in The Independent that some UK personnel will have to undertake year-long tours of duty in Afghanistan.
In a bluntly worded report, the committee bemoaned the decisions to scrap the RAF's Nimrod surveillance aircraft and the Ark Royal aircraft carrier. Last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set out plans to cut the Army's strength by 7,000 and the size of the Royal Navy and the RAF by 5,000 each. Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, has said spending would rise by 1 per cent above inflation a year after 2015 to prepare for a new-look armed forces by 2020.
But the committee, chaired by the senior Tory MP James Arbuthnot, cast doubt over the Government's entire strategy, warning it was "in danger of becoming a wish list that fails to make the hard choices necessary to ensure the nation's security".
The MPs said: "We are not convinced... that from 2015 the armed forces will maintain the capability to undertake all that is being asked of them." They pointed to "mounting concern" within the armed forces – heavily engaged in operations in Afghanistan and Libya – that they are already below strength.
The committee gave warning that the cuts would undermine Britain's military firepower, its contribution to Nato and the country's standing on the world stage.
"The Government appears to believe the UK can maintain its influence while reducing spending, not just in the area of defence, but also at the Foreign Office. We do not agree," the MPs said. "We are concerned the impact of defence cuts on the UK's defence commitments and role within Nato and other strategic alliances does not appear to have been fully addressed."
The MPs did, however, agree with military commanders who rejected Mr Cameron's argument that Britain was ready for a "full spectrum" of challenges in partnership with nations such as France.
The MPs said: "The committee is not convinced that this aspiration can be achieved by co-operation with our allies given the challenges of aligning political with operational needs."
The enemy within
The damning picture of the Armed Forces could not have come from a more True Blue source. The committee's chairman, James Arbuthnot, has a background that once epitomised Tory breeding. The son of a baronet, he was head boy at Eton College before reading law at Trinity Cambridge and becoming a barrister.
Mr Arbuthnot has been an MP for 24 years. Such was his reputation for loyalty that he was made the Tory Chief Whip after serving as a Defence Minister.
But Mr Cameron will be reminded today that his fellow Old Etonian puts loyalty to country above party.