Politics

Royal Navy ‘spread too thin’ to do its job, warns former First Sea Lord

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The peer believes a lack of available ships was directly responsible for the capture by Iran of the UK-flagged oil tanker the Stena Impero last year – and accused the Government of basing decisions on resources rather than the worldwide threats which the nation faces. Baron West was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006, and who also served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism in then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Government from 2007 to 2010.

He told Express.co.uk: “This review was trumpeted by the Prime Minister as being the biggest review since World War 2, certainly since Suez.

“It was going to be all things to all men, it was going to talk about our position in the world, the importance of foreign policy, what all the threats are, and come up with a defence and security plan that makes us safe, all of these things.

“And what clearly is actually happening, not least because of this damn virus but other reasons as well, is that it is going to become a cuts thing again.”

Baron West said: “There won’t be extra money for defence – I think that is highly unlikely.

“And therefore, although they say they are getting what is required by this country for defence, the reality that they are not basing what forces we have on the threats that we face.

“They are basing it on how much money we have got.

“If that is necessary, if that is really what we have got to do, then they should be honest with that.

“And they are not being honest about it. For example, things like the two percent of GDP on defence: well, actually the Government has not really managed that and they have clipped the figures to achieve that.

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“And with the two percent, if GDP slumps, which it might well do, you have got less money.”

Baron West added: “I am extremely worried that we are looking at defence and saying “where can we make savings?’ rather than what do we actually require with the current threats there are in the world.

“We are now leaving Europe, we want to be have global reach, we have got to trade globally and there is no doubt that for Britain to be wealthy and trading globally, you need a stable world.

“And to have a stable world, you need military assets there, and the best military assets to stop wars actually are maritime powers vessels in these regions.

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Baron West added: “I am extremely worried that we are looking at defence and saying “where can we make savings?’ rather than what do we actually require with the current threats there are in the world.

“We are now leaving Europe, we want to be have global reach, we have got to trade globally and there is no doubt that for Britain to be wealthy and trading globally, you need a stable world.

“And to have a stable world, you need military assets there, and the best military assets to stop wars actually are maritime powers vessels in these regions.

“We have done that over decades and centuries.”

Baron West also suggested talk of redirecting resources to tackle emerging threats posed by cyberattacks, drones and AI was actually a smokescreen to enable cuts in other areas.

He said: “The reality is, we need hard killing power, whether it is frigates, or carriers, of the aircraft off the carriers, you have got to have that hard killing power.

“And the navy, more than anyone else, can’t get there without a ship.

“I am afraid successive Governments have cut the navy again and again – so instead of having 12 Type-45 destroyers, which we ere planning to have, we only need six of them.

“We’ve been promised by this Government that they would increase the number of frigates by the middle of the 2020s.

“Well now it is quite clear that they wont.

“If they don’t order the new ones then it is quite likely that the numbers will drop even further and that is not very clever, it is dangerous.

“That will makes things being unstable because we have not got the defence capability we require, and that is very worrying, not just in that area but for example with attack submarines.

“We have a very small number of those. It’s a disgrace.”

Baron West warned: “The Royal Navy cannot do what the nation thinks it is capable of doing.

I don’t like saying I told you so but I bloody well did tell them so

Baron West of Spithead

“The business of that ship that got captured in the Gulf for example, the Stena Impero.

“I was banging the drum for weeks before that saying we need more than one frigate destroyer out there.

“They couldn’t get more than one because we’ve got so few.

“Lo and behold, a British ship gets captured – I don’t like saying I told you so but I bloody well did tell them so. We are spread too thin.”

An MoD spokesman told Express.co.uk: “The Integrated Review is ongoing, and no conclusions have been made, therefore we will not be drawn into speculation.”

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