Liam Fox has just responded in the Commons chamber to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth's statement on defence cuts, which included a cut in RAF Tornados and Harriers available at readiness, the closure of RAF Cottesmore and the abandoning of the Nimrod ASW and long range SAR capability for years until the MRA4 enters delayed service.
Here are the highlights of what he said:
“This Government is making cuts to our wider defence capability when we’re fighting a war only strengthens the perception that they’re not committed to the armed forces. This is a government willing to spend £12.5bn on a pointless VAT cut, but not to maintain the capability of our Armed Forces… This is a day of humiliation for defence ministers and confirmation that this Labour Government has decided to spend £900m sacrificing tomorrow’s defence capability in order to fund current operations in Afghanistan. It follows publication earlier today of yet another highly critical NAO Report which accuses the Govt of a ‘save now, pay later’ approach where short-term savings today will have to be paid with interest by the next Government."
“His announcement of new Chinook helicopters is of course welcome but it would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister had not, against all advice, cut £1.4bn from the helicopter programme in 2004. But for his failure to understand the Armed Forces, those Chinooks could have been on the front line today, saving the lives of our brave soldiers; instead, they will not be available until at least 2013 by which time, according to the PM, we should have substantially transferred security responsibility to Afghan national forces.
“Furthermore, it cannot mask the severity of the cuts being made elsewhere. As for those cuts, the Prime Minister constantly claims that the cost of operations in Afghanistan is being funded from the Treasury Reserve, but today the truth has been exposed: as the Secretary of State said in his statement, he has raided £900 million from the core defence budget to fund current operations when it is the Treasury Reserve which should be paying."
“The secretary of state told us on TV at the weekend that the Treasury reserve is covering the cost of the war in Afghanistan. They’re trying to fight wars on a peacetime budget. Our defences are being cut, not as a response to a diminished threat – if anything the threat is increasing. The Government that’s had four defence secretaries in 4 years is now cutting capability as a result of catastrophic economic mismanagement. All the time his Secretaries of State are having to make real cuts in their capability. This is the final chapter in the wasted New Labour project. Who is paying for their incompetence? Our brave armed forces.”