UK Politics

Tories remove Army cuts protesters from conference hall

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Media captionColonel Ian Brazier left the hall with security after protesting about defence cuts

Two retired soldiers have been ejected from the Conservative Party conference hall after heckling Philip Hammond over defence cuts.

The pair were protesting at plans to axe the second battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Joe Eastwood and Ian Brazier accused Mr Hammond of betraying the regiment.

They refused to sit down when asked to do so by the defence secretary and were escorted from the hall by security guards.

Mr Hammond promised to speak to the retired soldiers, but they told reporters they were not interested in meeting him.

The planned closure of the battalion is part of the government's Army 2020 strategy to reduce the number of service personnel from 102,000 to 82,000.

The campaigners, who are protesting outside the Tory conference venue in Manchester, say the regiment, which has a history stretching back 336 years, was added to a list of cuts without any explanation.

'Soldiers betrayed'

Retired Colonel Ian Brazier, who joined the Conservative Party last month, said his attempts to get answers on the planned closure from the Ministry of Defence had been "frustrated" and "avoided".

"My soldiers, the people I have had the honour of serving with, have been betrayed," he told reporters.

Image caption Former members of the Royal Fusiliers are protesting outside the conference

He also attacked the government's wider plans to reduce the size of the Army and replace full-time soldiers with reservists.

Col Brazier said: "It won't be a defence force. It will be incapable of producing anything like the reach the minister seems to think it will have."

He called for a more "rational" approach to defence spending and urged Prime Minister David Cameron to sack Mr Hammond and "get somebody who knows what they are doing to look after the forces".

Both men said they hoped to remain Conservative Party members and Col Brazier said thousands of the party's rank-and-file would support what they are doing.

"There are thousands of Conservatives who agree with exactly what we are doing and I'm sorry if Mr Hammond finds that embarrassing," he said.

'Army's decision'

"It's not half as embarrassing as it is for me looking in the faces of some of our young soldiers who have come back from Afghanistan to be told that they are redundant or they are going to be posted to regiments they've never heard of to support them."

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Media captionColonel Ian Brazier said he wanted to know why the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was being axed

Murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby belonged to the same battalion and Col Brazier said it was "incredibly insensitive" of the government to disband it.

Speaking after the incident, Mr Hammond said the Army had decided which regiments would be affected by the cuts.

"If they'd stayed in the hall a bit longer they would have heard the case that I was building in my speech for why we have to invest in the new capabilities we need to defend Britain," he told Sky News.

"While we all cherish our military traditions - and we have great regiments with proud histories - we have to reduce the size of our conventional armed forces.

"The Army has made the decision about how it needs to restructure to be able to defend Britain in the future with a smaller army than we've had in the past.

"These two RRF guys - the campaign's been long running - they know very well the point that we are making."

An Army spokeswoman said: "We have been clear that the regular Army is becoming smaller and over a year ago we also announced changes to its structure so it is more reflective of the complex global situation.

"These changes were led by the Army, who took account of a number of criteria to determine which infantry battalions would be withdrawn, to ensure the Army is more adaptable to future challenges.

"To suggest decisions were taken on recruitment performance alone is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Army's process."