Liam Fox says compromise will be reached to head off mutiny over defence cuts
The International Trade Secretary’s intervention came after backbenchers spoke out and a defence minister signalled he could quit.
A compromise deal will be found to quell Tory unrest over potential cuts to the armed forces, Cabinet minister Liam Fox has suggested as Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson prepared to face MPs on the issue.
Dr Fox, a former defence secretary, acknowledged that a review of security capabilities was causing concerns and it was “not unknown” for tensions to become public.
The International Trade Secretary’s intervention came after backbenchers threatened a “scrap” over cuts and a defence minister signalled he could be prepared to quit if plans are implemented to slash the Army’s manpower.
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Tobias Ellwood, the minister responsible for defence personnel and veterans, is understood to have concerns about proposals which could see the Army’s full-time strength reduced by 12,000 to 70,000.
With Mr Williamson facing his first set of defence questions in the Commons on Monday, and Mr Ellwood set to be alongside him on the front bench, the issue has the potential to cause trouble for the Government.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former army officer and a prominent member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, has warned the party leadership a number of Conservative colleagues are prepared to fight back over the threat of cuts and “feelings are running high” on the issue.
“Heading back into town for another scrap this week,” he said on Sunday night.
“I am determined that as the party of defence, we as a team will get it right.”
Speculation about defence cuts has mounted in recent months since the launch of a review led by Theresa May’s national security adviser Mark Sedwill.
As well as rumours about potential cuts to the strength of the Army, there have been concerns about the future of armoured vehicle programmes and suggestions that amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could be axed alongside the loss of 1,000 Royal Marines.
But Dr Fox said: “You have to look at our record. We are one of the very few Nato countries that actually spends 2% of our GDP on defence.
“There’s a review going on at the present time and I think back to my time as secretary of state for defence where we had a similar review ongoing and there’s always a lot of tension, not just between the MoD and the Treasury but also inside the MoD between the different parts of the armed forces and naturally there are concerns about the future shape of that.
“But this is an ongoing discussion. I’m afraid it’s not unknown for some of these tensions to spill over into the public domain.”
He told Sky News’s Sunday with Niall Paterson: “I think we should wait and see exactly what sort of compromise we reach, because that’s what it will be and remember that the UK is the fourth biggest military budget in the world and is one of the very few Nato countries actually fulfilling promises to spend and help protect our partners.”
The MoD said no decisions had been made and dismissed reports about the options being considered for cuts as “speculation”.