Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has warned Conservative MPs they risk causing “serious damage” to the UK's reserve forces if they vote against Government plans to restructure the Armed forces.
The House of Commons is due to vote today on a rebel amendment which could delay plans to expand the Army Reserve to 30,000 to offset cuts of 20,000 in regular troops by 2020.
The amendment, tabled by Tory backbencher John Baron, has been signed by 21 Tory MPs who have expressed concerned that the changes will leave gaps in defence capabilities. In a letter written by Mr Hammond addressed to the Tories, he said a vote could be “damaging to the army and Britain's military capability”.
He wrote: “I hope colleagues will support the Government in resisting John's amendment. To do otherwise will not only give a significant fillip to the Labour Party but more significantly would risk serious damage to our future armed forces.”
If the Defence Reform Bill were to became law under Mr Baron's proposals, the Defence Secretary would have to report to Parliament on the “viability and cost effectiveness” of his plans and how he intends to implement them. He would not be permitted to proceed without the approval of both Houses.
Mr Hammond warned that the amendment would halt the process of recruiting reservists, sending “completely the wrong signal to those thinking of joining the reserves”, prevent a planned change in the name of the Territorial Army to the Army Reserve, freeze payments to small and medium-sized firms whose employees join the reserves, and stop reservists receiving paid leave when training as well as on operations.
“Furthermore, there is a very significant risk that halting, or threatening to halt, the implementation of measures in the Reserves White Paper would hit morale among the existing reserve forces, confuse employers, and make future recruitment a much more difficult task,” he added.
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, said the Army remained committed to delivering 'Army 2020', which he said will provide a "coherent, integrated force of regulars and reserves" to deliver the capability required by the Government.
“We are well on our way to implementing this plan", he said. "To reverse course at this stage would be destabilising and damaging. Increasing and rebuilding the Army Reserve is crucial to delivering the fighting force of the future. To do otherwise would leave a gap in our capability and deprive talented young people of an opportunity to benefit from military service.”
Additional reporting by Press Association