Ben Wallace 'confident' defence budget will meet British Armed Forces' needs

Defence Secretary calls for £11 billion increase over next two years

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace watches Ukrainian troops being trained by the British Army at Bovington Camp, south-west England, on February 22. AFP
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Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said he is confident Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give the armed forces a budget big enough to meet its needs.

Mr Wallace, a former soldier, spoke after reports suggested his department would be allocated less than it had requested.

He has said defence spending needs to rise by up to £11 billion ($13.23 billion) over the next two years to cover the cost of the war in Ukraine and rising inflation.

But after talks between Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt and Mr Wallace, media reports suggest that figure could be between £4 billion and £5 billion.

'Give defence a 10-year budget'

Speaking at Conservative Home’s defence and security conference in Westminster on Monday, Mr Wallace appeared optimistic before the spring budget, scheduled for next Thursday.

Mr Wallace used his appearance at the gathering to stress the need for the British Army to be "match fit", given that a war is raging on the continent.

He said that the world looked set to become “more insecure, more unstable and more anxious in the next decade or two decades”.

“We need to recognise that."

As arms donations to Kyiv continue, Mr Wallace said a key task for the government was to show it is committed to restocking weapons.

Turning to procurement, he said there had been "a political lack of courage over the decades to just delete things" off order lists.

Mr Wallace said that if a particular project was not needed, "you get much greater waste by deferring" than you do by binning it.

"Deferrals might be convenient and politically a clever way of hiding and telling the public you can't have everything you want," he said.

He suggested Britain should look to its European allies for inspiration on spending.

“I think the biggest thing that the government could do [to help], and it’s been recommended on three reviews … [is] give me a 10-year budget," Mr Wallace said.

"My Italian colleagues have a 10-year budget, my German colleagues have a 10-year budget, my French colleagues have a 10-year budget. I was in Saudi [Arabia] last week and they have a 10-year budget."

His trip to Riyadh included a meeting with the Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, after which they signed a defence agreement to strengthen their combat relationship.

Mr Wallace said he was proud of the difference the UK had made in helping Ukraine to defend itself against invading forces.

But he added: “We must invest in the future as well and learn the lessons from what we’re seeing on the battlefield to make sure we are match fit [going] towards whatever happens next.”

Putin bogged down in quagmire

More than a year after the Kremlin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin “is in a difficult position”, Mr Wallace said.

He highlighted Moscow selling oil and gas to China at a 25 per cent discount as a sign of Mr Putin’s desperation.

“That makes Russia dependent on China in the way that it is desperately wanting to avoid,” Mr Wallace said.

The war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, and western sanctions have dealt heavy blows to the Russian economy.

Mr Wallace said Mr Putin “has lost well over 188,000 soldiers” in Ukraine and has enjoyed only minimal territorial gains.

“So he is in a difficult position,” he said. “Yes, he has captured a small amount of territory [but] he has had to drop back [in other areas].”

The figure mentioned by Mr Wallace was similar to an estimate given by US intelligence in January, albeit that referred to both dead and injured Russian troops.

He predicted the Russian leader would “settle down for the long haul because that’s his only option, he has no other option apart from international escalation, which we all worry about [and] we work to mitigate”.

Repeating the Conservative government’s pledge to stand by Kyiv no matter how long the war drags on, he said: “We’re with Ukraine to the end.

“At the end, I think, is the expulsion of Russia from Ukraine and indeed forcing Russia into some form of negotiation … when Ukraine is in a position of strength and it gets to choose what it wants to do with its future."

Nato allies’ donations of “nearly 200 tanks across the board” to Ukraine has sent a “pretty strong statement” to Russia about the transatlantic alliance’s support for Kyiv's war efforts, Mr Wallace said.

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Updated: March 07, 2023, 12:41 AM

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