British forces would only last “five days” in a war, warns a senior MP

Britain’s armed forces would hold out “about five days” in the event of war, a senior Conservative MP claimed, as pressure mounts on the Chancellor to increase defense spending in next month’s budget.

Tobias Ellwood, Tory leader of the Commons Defense Committee, told the Financial Times that high inflation and the cost of replacing equipment sent to Ukraine created “a really grim picture” and seriously depleted military stocks .

Jeremy Hunt has promised to consider the case for more military spending in his budget in response to an update to the government’s foreign and defense policy for 2021, which is expected in the coming weeks.

The revision of the so-called “Integrated Review” by John Bew, a historian and member of Policy Unit Number 10, will take into account the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The original document was billed as “inclination towards the Indo-Pacific”.

Meanwhile, lobbying for more military spending is mounting, and defense officials are privately discussing a number of high-profile money-saving measures.

A person briefed on the discussions told the FT these could include the mothballing of HMS Prince of Wales, one of the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers, fewer RAF flights and the possible cessation of special forces operations.

Financial insiders despised such “doomsday scenarios”, which are often referred to as “waving a shroud” in One Horse Guards Road.

The state of the British Army has become a domestic issue. Ben Wallace, the defense secretary who has lobbied for additional funding last year, told Parliament last week that Britain had “undermined and underfunded” its armed forces.

It was an admission that John Healey, the shadow defense secretary, took as “a frank admission of failure in 13 years of Conservative government”.

Ellwood claimed the army is seriously short of surface-to-air and anti-tank missiles, which are among the weapons supplied to Ukraine.

“I am very concerned that the message from the Treasury Department suggests that we need to brace for further cuts in real terms as inflation rises,” he said.

The Department of Defense said: “These are speculative rumors that always circulate before a budget and even more so in the run-up to the integrated review. We do not comment on speculation.”

There is frustration at the Treasury Department and at Number 10 over the campaign for more military spending. Hunt’s team points out that £242bn is earmarked for a 10-year equipment procurement plan.

Rishi Sunak, as chancellor under Boris Johnson’s government in 2020, pledged an extra £16bn for defense over four years in what has been hailed as the biggest increase in defense spending since the Cold War.

Hunt said in his fall statement last year: “The Prime Minister and I both recognize the need to increase defense spending. But before we make that commitment, it is necessary to revise and update the integrated review, which was written as it was before the invasion of Ukraine.”

During last year’s Tory leadership contests, Sunak refused to deliver on promises by his rivals to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP by 2030, from just over 2% currently.

However, a spokesman for Sunak said the prime minister’s commitment to defense is clear as he has increased the military budget and sent sizeable arms shipments to Ukraine.

The UK has given Ukraine more than £2.3bn so far. British forces would only last “five days” in a war, warns a senior MP

Adam Bradshaw

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