British forces were committed to Cyprus under the United Nations, but Mr Rifkind, in a speech to the Tory Reform Group last night, called for such open-ended commitments to be replaced with the rotation of forces from other countries.
'We must find a better way of sharing the burden,' he said. 'We have been in Cyprus for 30 years on a UN operation. We need to replace that sort of present arrangement with a different kind of approach under which a country commits a level of forces for a finite period, and there is a clear understanding that those forces will be replaced by equivalent forces from another country.'
His remarks will strengthen the speculation at Westminster that Britain may have to close more overseas bases as the Treasury presses for further cuts in public expenditure. With the armed forces and the Commons select committee warning that Britain's forces are overstretched, Mr Rifkind made it clear that the slimmed-down forces were near the bone.