MPs ‘startled’ by defence review rapidity

By Alex Stevenson

The strategic defence and security review (SDSR) is suffering from being rushed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), MPs have warned.

The Commons’ new defence committee’s first report of the parliament criticises ministers’ lack of consultation with the defence industry and the wider public.

It suggests a disconnect is developing between ambitions for Britain’s military and its realistic capabilities and their sustainability.

“We are not yet convinced that the combination of a budgetary straight-jacket, the short timescale, and the apparent unwillingness by the ministry to think outside existing structures, for example with regard to the more integrated use of reservists, will deliver that end,” committee chair James Arbuthnot said.

He complained that the review is a “missed opportunity to reconnect the people of the country with defence issues” and urged the MoD to address the issue by making sure it communicates the review’s outcome effectively to the wider public.

The MoD pointed out that it had received over 6,000 responses to the SDSR.

Defence secretary Liam Fox said that, regardless of the outcome of the defence review, the main combat effort in Afghanistan would not be undermined.

“The SDSR will address the most immediate threats to our national security, while maintaining the ability to identify and deal with emerging ones,” he commented.

“This flexible approach will ensure our armed forces can deal with challenges now and in the future.”

But his predecessor in the MoD, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Bob Ainsworth, blamed chancellor George Osborne for turning the review into a “cost-cutting farce”.

“It is clear this review is being held firmly behind closed doors without serious consultation with the public, our armed forces or industry,” he said. “So much for the transparent government the coalition promised.”

Mr Osborne and the MoD have clashed over whether the Treasury will pay for the like-for-like renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The chancellor has made clear the MoD must pay for it, making the defence review even harder for Dr Fox’s staff.

MPs on the defence committee said “unresolved discussions” risked confusing the review’s outcomes.

Mr Ainsworth went further, adding: “The coalition government’s failure to give a straight answer on who will be paying for our deterrent seriously undermines the basis of this review. They need to clear this up once and for all.”