British Army troop cuts 'must be re-examined amid open war' in Europe

Government is unprepared for international crises, report by UK MPs says

A soldier from Royal Welsh Battlegroup takes part in manoeuvres during Nato exercise 'Hedgehog' on the Estonian/Latvian border. Getty
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Plans to cut troop numbers in the British Army are “perverse” and must be re-examined amid “open war” in Europe, British MPs have said in a new report.

The UK's cross-party Defence Committee says urgent action is needed to address a “capability gap” within the country's armed forces which has been exposed by the deteriorating security situation on the continent.

The report, published on Thursday, demands that the UK government's foreign and security policy documents are redrawn in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Last year, Whitehall published the Integrated Review which set out Boris Johnson’s vision for a global Britain tilting towards the Indo-Pacific region and away from Europe.

However, the committee said “the impact of both the Afghan withdrawal and the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine are being seemingly dismissed as insignificant and there appears to be no intention to revisit the conclusions of the documents”.

“UK defence thus appears … arrogant and unwilling to learn lessons,” the MPs said, adding that the events of the last 12 months demonstrate the government was “manifestly not prepared” for major international crises.

The MPs were “especially concerned” about a planned cut in the regular size of the Army from 82,000 to 73,000 by 2025 under current plans.

But the MPs warned that as well as their key defence role, the armed forces are being used as “backfill” to carry out civilian tasks by Whitehall departments “seemingly unable to respond to crises”.

Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said: “In these uncertain times, our capabilities and readiness must be ironclad. With open war raging in Europe, widespread economic instability and the catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal underscoring the government’s lack of preparedness for international crises, we must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead”.

He added; “it is clear that now is not the time for personnel cuts or budget shortfalls in our armed forces”.

Spending on defence has been a key issue in the Tory leadership campaign, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss promising to increase it to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

But Mr Ellwood said while promises to increase the budget are welcome, “inflationary pressures make this a real-terms fall”.

He said: “We cannot afford for our services to become poorer and weaker. We need to spend more, and spend it wisely.

“We must act now to prepare and consolidate our nation’s defences — anything less would be denial of the reality we face.”

The committee also criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suggestion that “the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on the European land mass … are over”, following the scenes of armoured fighting in Ukraine.

“While investments in new technology are vital, it is also clear that the days of ‘big tank battles on the European land mass’ are not over,” the MPs said, calling for a review of the assumptions made in the Integrated Review and Defence in a Competitive Age.

Updated: July 27, 2022, 11:39 PM