Tory MPs call for increased defence spending in light of ‘New Cold War’

Backbench Conservatives said planned cuts to the size of the armed forces should be paused and re-evaluated in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Army engineers take part in a training exercise at Longmoor Training Camp in Hampshire
Army engineers take part in a training exercise at Longmoor Training Camp in Hampshire

Conservative MPs have called for a “meaningful” increase in defence spending in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a report published on Friday, members of the backbench 1922 Defence Committee said the Government should re-evaluate its planned cuts to the size of the armed forces and rebuild weapons stockpiles to Cold War levels.

Committee chair and former Army officer John Baron said: “Across the Conservative backbenches there is a wide consensus that the Russian invasion of Ukraine requires an increase in defence spending alongside a broad reassessment of manpower and capabilities.

“In particular, the report concludes that there should be a moratorium on defence cuts until this reassessment exercise is concluded.”

In 2020, the Government pledged to spend an extra £24 billion on defence over the following five years, but the committee said there was “still substantial scope for more spending as befits what many regard as the beginning of the New Cold War”.

Warning that Germany’s announcement of extra defence spending would mean the UK no longer had Nato’s second-largest defence budget, the committee said the Ministry of Defence should aim for specific targets in terms of number of soldiers, ships and aircraft rather than the current goal of spending 2% of GDP.

The committee also expressed concern that the armed forces had become “too dependent” on reserves as part of a “cost-cutting exercise” and called for a rebalancing of personnel towards regular troops.

In order to cut costs, the committee suggested buying more off-the-shelf equipment, for example scrapping the troubled Ajax vehicle programme in favour of an available alternative. Ajax has already cost the Government more than £3 billion and the project is four years late.

The committee also called for recruitment to be taken back in-house after much-publicised problems with outsourcing arrangements that had failed to meet targets.

They added that the same should be done in order to improve “lamentable” food and accommodation services.

Defence Command Paper
The Ajax fighting vehicle programme has cost the Government more than £3 billion (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The report concluded: “Diplomacy and soft power should always be the primary tools for achieving Britain’s desired outcomes, and they also require increased resourcing.

“However, a comprehensive and well-resourced military instrument can help reinforce such means, while reducing the chances of armed conflict.

“Recent events mean that defence will have a heightened relevance at the next general election not seen since the ending of the Cold War.”

Mr Baron added: “The report has been submitted to the Government and circulated around Conservative MPs. We are looking forward to feeding its findings directly into the No 10 policy unit and to the Prime Minister.

“He would be wise to heed his backbenchers.”

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