Philip Hammond warns defence cuts 'risk capability'


Phillip Hammond warns further reductions in spending would erode military capability

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Further big cuts in defence spending will lead to the loss of the UK's armed forces capability, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has warned.

Things were "extremely taut" after the biggest cuts since 1991, he said ahead of the chancellor's spending review.

He told the BBC he would be "fighting the corner for my budget and defence".

The Ministry of Defence said while budgets for 2015-16 onwards had yet to be set, it had been promised a 1% annual increase in equipment spending.

Britain currently spends around £34bn a year on defence.

Speaking to the BBC, as he watched a Royal Marines training exercise in Norway, Mr Hammond said: "There may be some modest reductions we can make through further efficiencies and we will look for those, but we won't be able to make significant further cuts without eroding military capability."

Start Quote

This is just the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, 'we can't have any cuts here'”

End Quote Paul Flynn Labour MP

He added: "We have some very challenging targets ahead of us to deliver the outcome of the last spending review and I'm clear that we won't be able to deliver big further savings.

"But we need to look broadly across government at how we are going to do that, not just narrowly at a few departments."

'Collision course'

Reductions in defence spending for 2013-15, in addition to those in 2010's Strategic Defence and Security Review, were outlined in last year's Autumn Statement.

And Downing Street said last month the military would not be immune from further financial cuts in Chancellor George Osborne's next spending review - which is due to be published before the end of this year and will set out government spending plans for the first half of the next parliament.


It is rare for a senior minister to speak out so publicly about cuts that are still the subject of such tense negotiation.

But Philip Hammond is clearly trying to draw the battle lines ahead of the chancellor's Spending Review for post-2015.

George Osborne has to make savings of at least £10bn.

If that were to translate into cuts right across departments - save for those that have been "ring-fenced" - then the Ministry of Defence could lose more than another £1bn from its budget.

Mr Hammond says while there may be some scope for "modest efficiency savings" he's adamant that he won't be able to make significant cuts without eroding Britain's military capabilities - in other words making more troops redundant and axing more military equipment.

The defence secretary thinks the savings should come from other departments, namely the welfare budget.

That puts him on a collision course with the Conservative's coalition partners. Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, has already publicly stated that he has no plans to make further savings in welfare budget.

A report this week from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) suggested this could lead to additional reductions of more than £1bn a year in the defence budget from 2015.

However, returning from a trade visit to India in February, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was open to the idea of diverting money from the UK's £10bn aid budget to MoD projects, including peacekeeping and other security-related development.

In a Daily Telegraph interview, Mr Hammond said a number of Conservative cabinet ministers believed "that we have to look at the welfare budget again... if we are going to get control of public spending on a sustainable basis".

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says that, because Mr Hammond and other Tory ministers want a greater proportion of savings to come from the welfare budget, they are on a collision course with their Liberal Democrat partners.

Former leader of the Lib Dems, Sir Menzies Campbell, told BBC Radio 4's Saturday PM programme he understood the defence secretary's concerns, warning: "The real issue is you have to balance your resources against your ambitions, and the problem at the moment is that the resources keep being reduced, but the ambitions stay as grand as ever."

He admitted looking elsewhere for possible cuts was a "difficult issue" for the coalition, but said the chancellor had a "responsibility to make sure the poorest people are protected" if the welfare budget was reduced.

Battle lines

Our defence correspondent says tense negotiations over the next public spending round are already under way and Mr Hammond was publicly drawing the lines of battle.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said Mr Hammond's comments were "a warning shot across Treasury bows and Lib Dem bows".

He told BBC Radio 5 live it came at "an extremely febrile time" on the back of the Eastleigh by-election, which the Liberal Democrats won while the Conservatives were pushed into third place.

Labour MP Paul Flynn told Radio 5 live Mr Hammond had started "the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, 'we can't have any cuts here'".

"Every department should take these cuts," he said.

Referring to a report by the Public Accounts Committee - which revealed the MoD had bought £1.5bn worth of equipment between 2009 and 2011 that it had not used - he said it had been "most outrageously wasteful in spending".

In response to Thursday's report, the government pledged "to reverse decades of lax inventory management".

Scottish National Party MSP Bill Kidd said a "simple" solution to save money within the defence budget was not to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme "which would save £100bn".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    The minister is right and, as we must all take cuts to live within a realistic economy, it follows that the defence budget must be cut in line with this reality.

    Then we shall have a defence force which reflects our economic standing in the world , not an over-inflated, post-colonial "punching above our weight" one. Sanity at last!

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    825.Alan : Well one cut they should be making is scrapping Trident, while one cut they should not be making is cutting the 50% tax rate for the very rich (or should that be greedy).

    The problem is you do not know what nuclear threats we will face in the future. You also do not understand that increasing tax rates actually reduce the tax take, whereas reducing them increases it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    Herbert West
    ... they murdered the US ambassador over a film

    >>> So the US gvt murdered the head of state of Libya and then a representative of the US gvt was assassinated by the people on whose behalf they committed the murder - define irony.

    The overthrow of the Libyan government was not authorised by the UN resolution and that was what the West intervened to achieve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    @830. ianmolynz seen as you are so intent on learning from history why not learn from what happened in 2007. Remember when we got systematically destroyed by reckless, short term profit seeking crooks The law which governs banking has never been updated.
    They can create as much digital money they want effectively wiping out government control on the economy. These are non-issues compared to this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    [771] Stop de-humanizing those who are unfortunately to be on benefit, those are the same people who not long ago were Nurses & Doctors caring for the sick, or a member of Her Majesty's armed forces defending the freedom of this nation. through no fault of their own there will be a lot more service[wo]men and the supporting workers soon be on benefit. If anything benefit payments should increased

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    I paid my taxes all my life until I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The genuinely disabled are being looked upon as being scroungers. I am also now a pensioner, and I am further being treated as a scrounger. As for the armed forces, who do we genuinely need protection from? It is time to keep our boots off the ground, and have a effective nuclear deterrent - incase we are really attacked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    Both welfare AND defence should not be cut before examining all possible other avenues first. There are plenty of Quangos that escaped the initial cull that don't warrant existence. Then there's the taxpayer-owned banks that don't have to pay their bosses extortionate salaries and bonuses. Plenty of scope for cuts IN THE RIGHT AREAS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    We all no in our heart of hearts that welfare needs cutting,if long term unemployed is offered a job that leaves them worse off by £10 or £20 a week they should be FORCED TO TAKE IT OR LOSE ALL BENEFITS including housing ,poll tax relief child benefit etc,if you CHOOSE to commit serious crime,ban from benefits,enter illegally the same.We can't starve the services and throw money at skiivers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    @ 771. martin26

    Yes lets just ban them from being able to have any form of entertainment or participation in society. Why should they be able to communicate? While we're at it why should they have homes? Why can't we build camps for them to live in? We should also have different - brutal - laws for them!

    I AM OF COURSE BEING SARCASTIC - unfortunately the above is what too many people want. Fools

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    I'm disgusted at all these cuts - the rich prosper while the poor suffer - take money from the undeserving rich to fund the nations needs

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    ALL MPs should PAY for their own EXPENCES maybe then we can afford to give more to the MOD

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    Why don't we try making friends around the world instead of enemies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    Britain's forces are in a mess due to politicians vanity and egos. Britain is not a major world military power but we still try to retain a force mix that lets us pretend to be USA Lite. A real sense of what we want to be in the world is needed. Strong defense by all means but projects like the F35 & carriers are really about vanity and nostalgia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    To all the central office bank of rich ennobled mum and Eaton educated dad interns the trolling remarks about lazy unemployed big screen scroungers is getting lame time to get some new soundbites to repeat like no disability benefits for disabled soldiers ,no homes for heroes,thanks and your sacked, we dont pay tax poor people do ,etc etc because thats the reality charity for wounded soldiers

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    For your information the welfare IS being cut drastically and far from supporting and protecting the sick and disabled it is killing people off and making their lives a misery. Stop sending soldiers into so many other countries all of the time. Welfare is needed to help disabled soldiers, too, when they have to come home. Look after our own country...less aid abroad and the EU money pit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    813. Surely not. Absolutely right. Unelected people rule our lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    Well, I'd happily re-join the army to get off benefits - will that count?

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    As least the military actually do something for what they earn

    So what do you exactly for your benefits?

    If you vote me down you advocate a lazy"I want it but I want someone else to pay for it" society which will fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    Replacement Trident nuclear missiles seem a tad expensive for something that can never be used

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    Invading Afghanistan to get Bin Laden-could have paid the Taliban with about 10% of that gold GB sold @ $350 an oz (it is now $1575 an oz.)

    A pointless,badly (no plan+no exit plan) invasion of Iraqi.
    Citizens in the US still think it was something to do with plane hijackings!
    At huge cost,human and financial led by a sober idiot with the IQ of a dead carrot.


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