Ex-Navy head Putin will think UK ‘won’t fight’ with current spending
Vladimir Putin will question how “serious” Britain is about supporting Ukraine and defending itself from attack if it does not “spend big” as part of the next budget, one of the UK’s most senior naval figures has warned. Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, urged Mr Hunt to dramatically increase defence spending given the war in eastern Europe, as ammunition stockpiles continue to dwindle and European countries announce major domestic military packages. He joined a chorus of former military officials and politicians calling on the Government to stop “deliberately keeping defence broken”.
Admiral Lord West said on Sunday that it was “extraordinary” that ministers had not already increased spending in light of the war in Ukraine and high inflation.
His comments were made ahead of the Spring Budget announcement in mid-March, as well as the Integrated Review, which is also due next month.
Lord West said: “It’s extraordinary that with a war raging in Europe, we’re the only country almost that hasn’t done quite a massive increase in defence spending.
“The Germans have done that, the Baltic nations have done that, the Americans have done that.
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“And they [ministers] quote the uplift [of £16 billion] they gave [in 2020]. But over years there’s been lots of cuts so all that was doing was helping the hollowed out, great hole that there was. It didn’t really resolve anything.”
He suggested that if the defence review fails to allocate greater funds, it would signal to Putin that Britain is “not serious” about their military capabilities or their continued support of Ukraine.
He said: “If Putin is sitting there when this defence review comes round, and again Britain doesn’t increase defence spending, he’s going to say ‘Ah, they’re not serious, are they? I don’t need to pay much attention to them’.
“He’ll be working on the assumption we’re not going to fight. Putin will say ‘That’s great, I rather like that’.”
Lord West also warned Britain was suffering from a shortage of some ammunition due to armaments being given to Ukraine, with stockpiles not as deep as they needed to be.
He said: “If we were suddenly in a major hot fight then we would run out [of ammunition] really quickly.
“The cupboard, I would have thought, will be pretty bare with some types of anti-tank systems… and some anti-aircraft systems.”
Over the weekend, allies of General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, suggested he was “deeply concerned” about the operational capabilities of the Armed Forces following decades of cuts and was considering resigning from his role as a result.
General Sir Richard Barrons, a former head of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, called on Mr Hunt to sanction funding to replace weapons and tanks given to Ukraine and stop “deliberately keeping defence broken”.
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Three former defence secretaries – Sir Michael Fallon, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo – all publicly backed a spending boost to defence last week.
Incumbent defence secretary Ben Wallace has demanded an extra £8 billion-£11 billion to be allocated to military spending but the Treasury is reportedly hesitant.
Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons and a former defence secretary, has hinted that a cash boost could be on the way.
Chancellor Hunt is weighing up the possibility of a boost but reports have not suggested that the full extent of Mr Wallace’s demands will be heeded.
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