Prime Minister dodges challenge to commit to ‘Tier One’ defence status
Theresa May told the House of Commons that Britain would remain a ‘leading military power’ with a full range of capabilities.
For the second time in a week, Theresa May has shied away from pledging that the UK will remain a “Tier One” military power.
Eyebrows were raised last week when the Prime Minister shied away from a commitment to Tier One status during a press conference with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, saying instead the UK would continue to be “a leading defence nation”.
When she was pressed on the issue by one of her own MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, she again steered clear of the phrase, saying the Government was committed to Britain being “a leading military power”.
In a move said to have sent shockwaves through the military, the Prime Minister was reported last week to have asked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to justify plans to maintain Tier One status.
Mr Williamson has been pushing for an increase to military budgets as he undertakes the Modernising Defence Programme to prepare the armed forces to respond to future threats.
Mrs May later insisted the reports were “not correct” but has not since publicly used the formulation Tier One, which is thought to require an independent nuclear deterrent, a full range of land, air and sea forces, and the ability to respond to modern threats like cyber-attacks.
Plymouth Moor View MP and former soldier Johnny Mercer asked Mrs May at PMQs to “confirm to the House today that she is absolutely committed to this country retaining its Tier One military status”.
The PM replied: “I am absolutely committed to this country remaining a leading military power. There is no question that the Government will do what it needs to do to ensure that we are a leading military power.
“But we do need to ensure that we look at the threats we are now facing and the capabilities we need as these threats change. That is what the Modernising Defence Programme is about.
“But it is also about making sure our Ministry of Defence is operating as cost-effectively as it can so we can ensure we are providing for our brave men and women in our armed forces but we are also addressing the needs of the future.”
Asked why Mrs May did not use the Tier One phrase, her official spokesman told reporters: “The Prime Minister was clear in her commitment that Britain will remain a leading military power with a full range of capabilities.
“She set out that we want to ensure, as we look forward to 2030, that we have the full range of capabilities we need.”
Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith added to pressure on Mrs May on the issue when she told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute earlier this week that Britain’s Tier One military status was for Labour “absolutely a category that we want to be in”.
A senior Labour source confirmed that leader Jeremy Corbyn wants Britain to maintain Tier One status.
Mrs May paid tribute to Britain’s military personnel, telling MPs that Armed Forces Day on Saturday would be “an opportunity to recognise the source of pride and inspiration that our serving men and women are to us”.
On Wednesday morning she and Mr Williamson hosted members of the military reservists to a breakfast event at 10 Downing Street to mark Reserves Day.
Mrs May told the Commons that reservists play “an integral and vital role” in maintaining the UK’s security.