James Heappey discusses defence budget
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An exclusive poll has revealed that the public are getting behind Ben Wallace’s demands for a 10 percent hike in the Ministry of Defence’s Budget. According to the Techne UK survey for Express.co.uk a clear majority of those who express an opinion believe that the army should be increased in size rather than the current proposal to reduce it by 10,000.
According to the survey of 1,624 voters last week, almost half (47 percent) agree the army needs to be increased in size while only a third (35 percent) disagree.
The issue is one which comes out as dear to the heart of core Tory voters with 58 percent of those who backed the party in 2019 supporting an increase in the number of soldiers compared to 26 percent disagreeing.
Meanwhile, with Leave voters 55 percent support an increase in the size of the army and only 25 percent disagree.
Labour voters are evenly split on the issue with 41 percent supporting an increase but 42 percent disagreeing.
With the war in Ukraine raging and concerns that Britain and NATO allies could be dragged in, every age group has a majority in favour of increasing the number of military personnel.
The findings come as Mr Wallace and Mr Hunt are fighting behind the scenes over how much the Ministry of Defence should get.
Mr Hunt has only promised to increase schools and the NHS budgets, warning others they will need to make cuts.
But Mr Wallace has made it clear that with the problems in Ukraine and high inflation, the MoD needs at least 10 percent.
A 10 percent increase would amount to £11 billion just shy of the £13 billion needed to meet the demands of striking nurses wanting a 19 percent pay rise.
Last month, defence minister James Heappey told MPs in the Commons that Rishi Sunak and Mr Hunt were aware of “decades of under investment in the army” and strongly hinted that there would be measures spending commitments in the Budget to reverse that.
Mr Heappey said: “Everybody is clear, the Secretary of State (Ben Wallace) has said many times as have I, that serial underinvestment in the army over decades has led to the point where the army is in urgent need of recapitalisation.”
Significantly, he added: “The Chancellor and the Prime Minister get that and there is a Budget coming.”
The Defence Committee has been raising serious issues about the “clapped out” state of the army particularly its heavy armour vehicles.
A recent hearing at the committee heard that the army is still using some vehicles which are 50 years old and, at a time when the UK is sending tanks to Ukraine, there were concerns that if Russia invaded NATO allies in the Baltics then it would struggle to get a heavy army division across Europe in 60 days.
However, senior Tory MPs have questioned whether the Army is fit for purpose and suggest that the Ukraine war has exposed its deficiencies.
In a piece for the I last week, Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Defence select Committee, argued Britain needs a bigger army not smaller.
He said: “The last Defence Review was published in March 2021 (before the Russian invasion) and as with previous publications was designed to fulfil three objectives.”
He went on: “Perhaps it’s no surprise that voices in the US military think the British Army has slipped from tier one to tier three capability. And now Germany is suggesting we do not have the strength to take on Nato’s rapid response duties as we lack the 5,000 soldiers needed on short notice to move.”
The Defence Committee has set up a sub-committee under the chairmanship of former Armed Forces minister Mark Francois to also look at the state of procurement for Britain’s armed forces with many projects over budget and behind schedule.
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