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Hague rules out rethink on cuts

Foreign Secretary William Hague has ruled out a major rethink of the Government's planned defence cuts in the light of the Libya conflict.

Mr Hague said that while the Treasury is trying to be "helpful" to the Ministry of Defence, there is no prospect of changing major decisions such as scrapping the Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft.

Earlier the MoD disclosed that it has reached an agreement with the Treasury over a reported £800 million overspend in this year's budget which is expected to avoid further major cuts this year.

However Mr Hague said reports that ministers are now prepared to look again at the whole of last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are wide of the mark.

"These major decisions are not being reopened. It would be wrong to think that we are reopening the defence review," he told Sky News. "There are adjustments every year as you go along in a defence budget. The Treasury is being as helpful is it can be to the Ministry of Defence, that is what is happening here."

Under the terms of the agreement between the MoD and Treasury, it is reported that some projects - such as the purchase of additional Chinook helicopters and an upgrade to the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle - will be delayed.

The MoD is also said to have submitted to a new strict control regime, with the Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan required to approve all spending - from training flights and foreign trips to spare parts.

An MoD spokesman said they have made "significant inroads" into the £38 billion "black hole" in the defence budget inherited from the former Labour government while ensuring overseas operations are "fully equipped and resourced".

However Professor Malcolm Chalmers, of the Royal United Services Institute military think-tank, warned that the MoD may simply be storing up problems for the future, saying: "Because of Libya and also Afghanistan ongoing, it is very difficult to find areas in which to make cuts without there being very serious political problems.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said that ministers should now re-open the whole SDSR. "They have got themselves in a real mess. There is one thing worse than a minister making a bad decision, it is then sticking to that decision when events have proven that it is the wrong thing to do," he told a TV news channel.


From Belfast Telegraph