Wallace denies plans to slash armed forces numbers amid Commons concern

The Defence Secretary denied the Government has plans to slash armed forces numbers, amid reports of a near-20,000 cut facing the army.

Ben Wallace told MPs there is “no plan” before claiming “only a fool starts the debate on numbers rather than threat” when it comes to assessing the strategic needs of the UK.

He also said the Government’s major review on foreign policy, defence, security and international development is “not driven by financial pressures” but by threat, which prompted scepticism in the Commons as Labour former minister Chris Bryant noted: “I’ve heard it all before.”

Mr Wallace added on a recent meeting with military chiefs: “It was not a financial discussion, contrary to what was reported, it wasn’t a numbers discussion either, it was a discussion about how we meet the threat and how we deliver a future armed forces to match that.”

Speaking in the Commons at defence questions, Labour’s Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) earlier warned the army’s strength is “woefully short” of the Government’s target.

Mr Wallace claimed the UK is on course to meet its recruitment ambitions and to be “growing the armed forces, not shrinking them”.

Asked by Labour’s Judith Cummins (Bradford South) to “categorically deny” reports Number 10 wants to slash the size of the army from 74,000 to 55,000 personnel, Mr Wallace said: “I can confirm there is no plan to slash the size of the armed forces.

“The reports in the Sunday Times were complete erroneous reports, that was made clear to the journalist at the time.

“What is the case is our armed force should always, always be defined by both the threat we face as a nation, the capabilities we have and Britain’s global ambition and that is why in the integrated review we will deal with those processes rather than start the debate about numbers.”

Tobias Ellwood (Yui Mok/PA)
Tobias Ellwood (Yui Mok/PA)

Conservative former Defence Select Committee chairman Julian Lewis referenced press reports that the planned integrated defence review could result in “swingeing cuts” to armed forces personnel.

Mr Wallace replied: “My right honourable friend has been in this House long enough to never believe everything he reads in the newspapers.”

Mr Lewis was heard saying “until it happens,” in response.

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP who now chairs the Defence Select Committee, asked the Government to bring forward the integrated review.

Mr Ellwood said: “We are witnessing a seismic shift in power from the East to the West.

“Is it not time for us to recalibrate our foreign and security foreign policy in order to recognise this changing threat and the fact that China is rewriting the international global rules?”

Mr Wallace replied: “I feel (Mr Ellwood’s) sense of urgency about getting this review done.

“He will also know that SDSRs (Strategic Defence and Security Review) after SDSRs under both governments and both sides of this House often failed because they were never in step with the spending plans of a government and you ended up with SDSRs which were over ambitious and underfunded.

“The comprehensive spending review which is due in the autumn, it is really important, that I feel, that the integrated review reports at the same time and also that we learn the lessons from the recent Covid outbreak that shows how important resilience is.

“And that we feed that into the review to make sure the review is most up to date as possible.”

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