Fox denies pushing military chief out

By staff

Britain’s senior military officer will leave his post ahead of time, defence secretary Liam Fox has announced, before denying suggestions he is forcing Sir Jock Stirrup to go.

The chief of the defence staff had been due to leave next spring but is now expected to go after the conclusion of the strategic defence review later this year, Dr Fox said.

“We have to be able to maintain full stability and the full confidence of the people who work for us, not least because we’re in a very dangerous armed conflict,” he told the Sunday Times newspaper.

“We’ve talked about the best time to be replacing our senior staff, probably the end of the SDR in the autumn.”

Former jet pilot Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock had been perceived as being closer to the Labour government than the incoming Tory administration.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Politics Show Dr Fox rejected the claim Sir Jock had been fired, however. He and the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) senior civil servant, Sir Bill Jeffrey, are leaving after discussing “what was best for the department”.

“I really don’t think, whatever mistakes were made in Afghanistan or anywhere else, that the blame should land anywhere else but firmly on the heads of the politicians,” he added.

Before the election Dr Fox’s predecessor in the MoD, Bob Ainsworth, had jumped to defend Sir Jock’s status after suggestions he could be forced out early.

He said in January: “It has been a very tough year in Afghanistan, where we have learned quickly and reacted with exceptional speed in very difficult circumstances.

“This could only be done because of the command team we have in place. They have my full confidence.”

Mr Ainsworth reiterated these sentiments in a statement released today, saying: “As defence secretary I worked closely with Sir Jock Stirrup and Sir Bill Jeffrey. They always had my full confidence. I am pleased they will stay in post until the strategic defence review is complete.”

Pressure built up against Sir Jock after the government published the list of civil servants who earn more than £150,000. The list put him as the fourth best-paid public sector worker on a salary of £245,000.

Enthuasiam for the idea of a senior soldier taking over control of Britain’s armed forces has been growing for some time within Whitehall.

The head of the Army, General Sir David Richards, is the obvious candidate for the job but the vice-chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, is also thought to be in the running.