Defence minister Tobias Ellwood ‘threatens to quit’ over cuts that would leave Army with fewer than 70,000 soldiers

Mr Ellwood reportedly told colleagues of ‘deep discomfort’ over cost-cutting measures

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 25 November 2017 10:43
Defence minister Tobias Ellwoo
Defence minister Tobias Ellwoo

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood is reportedly threatening to resign if plans to impose deep cuts to army ranks are imposed.

Ex-soldier Mr Ellwood – who was hailed as a hero for trying to save the life of PC Keith Palmer in the Westminster terror attack – is understood to have expressed “deep discomfort” at cost-saving plans that would cut the army’s full-time strength to 70,000, a loss of 12,000 soldiers.

Whitehall sources quoted by The Times said the Ministry of Defence is “beginning to try and push back” against proposals, which reportedly shocked the newly appointed Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said no decisions had been made and dismissed suggestions of options being considered as “speculation”.

Former chief whip Mr Williamson, who took on the role after Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation, has previously been warned that attempts to bring in cuts to the armed forces would prompt a significant Tory revolt.

However, speculation about defence cuts has mounted since the launch of a review led by Theresa May’s national security adviser Mark Sedwill.

Measures thought to be under consideration include reducing the order for Ajax armoured vehicles and delaying upgrades to other tanks, as well as axing of amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, alongside the loss of 1,000 Royal Marines.

Mr Ellwood, who served in the Royal Green Jackets from 1991 to 1996 with tours in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kuwait, Germany, Gibraltar and Bosnia, and is now in the Army Reserve, has indicated he would have to step down if the military was not shielded from cuts, the newspaper said.

Tory rising star Johnny Mercer, who sits on the Defence Select Committee, also called for the bill for the Trident nuclear deterrent to be removed from the MoD, as it accounts for around 6 per cent of the annual defence budget.

The former Army officer said the “whole thing needs more money”, adding: “This is just a start – like the amphibious ‘rebellion’. It’s a campaign, not a silver bullet, to get defence back where it needs to be.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell also urged the Government to listen to concerns.

He said: “Former members of all three armed services, informed commentators, members of both Houses of Parliament and now a defence minister have all voiced their deepening anxieties about possible heavy cuts in the defence budget.

“Reducing the army even further, cutting the Royal Marines, and selling surface ships will fracture our defence capability.”

An MoD spokesman said: “We have the biggest defence budget in Europe and are one of very few countries to not only meet but exceed NATO’s 2 per cent spending target.

“In the face of intensifying threats, we are contributing to the cross-government review of national security capabilities and looking at how we best spend the rising defence budget to protect our country.

“No decisions have been made and any discussion of the options is pure speculation.”

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