Hoon's row with Treasury over MoD cuts deepens

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown is refusing to tell Geoff Hoon how much cash he has earmarked for the military, even though the official announcement is only a week away.

The Chancellor and Secretary of State for Defence have been locked in an increasingly bitter row over spending for more than two months.

The Treasury is reported to want cuts of about £1.2bn to the Ministry of Defence budget. This would lead to the loss of around 10,000 jobs, the closure of dozens of bases and the disposal of up to 10 ships and submarines.

Mr Hoon is exasperated that No 11 is refusing to tell him how much cash he has been given in the three-year spending round. He lobbied Tony Blair last week to intervene in the row with Mr Brown. Officials believe the Chancellor's ominous silence means that he has won No 10 approval to impose even deeper than expected cuts in MoD spending.

They furiously deny that there is any threat to the military's most cherished procurement of two aircraft carriers. The deal is vital to thousands of shipyard jobs in Mr Brown's Fife constituency.

Less certain is the fate of six surface warships, two nuclear-powered submarines and HMS Ark Royal, one of Britain's three existing aircraft carriers.

Also at risk are a number of historic regiments. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, has held a meeting with the Scottish regimental colonels, though the MoD has described this as "routine". It has been suggested that the Black Watch, a favourite of the late Queen Mother, is vulnerable.

Mr Hoon is expected to formally announce the cuts to Parliament a week on Friday. Conservative MPs suspect that the date, the day after two by-elections, has been chosen to ensure minimum publicity.

Mr Hoon does, however, have one piece of good news to announce: Britain is to buy dozens of unmanned spy-planes in an £800m deal.

The winning bid for the Watchkeeper programme has gone to Thales, a French defence company, in conjunction with Israeli manufacturers.

Israel is the world leader in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and is reported to have used them in a number of assassinations of Hamas leaders.