Military campaigners fear ‘little England’ retreat

By Alex Stevenson

Britain’s pragmatic consensus on cutting military spending reflects the weakening of Britain’s national spirit, a defence campaigner has claimed.

Commander John Muxworthy of the UK National Defence Association (UKNDA) said Britain had “lost its wisdom” as the Ministry of Defence prepared to slash spending on the armed forces by at least ten per cent.

He suggested the success of charities like Help the Heroes was wrongheaded because, he argued, the government should fund care and support for Britain’s military veterans.

“Help the Heroes is getting millions. They’re doing a fantastic job, but they shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

“Of course it’s desperately needed, [but] the money should come from the government’s resources because it is a national obligation.”

Before the general election discussions about the defence review focused on inter-services rivalry, with fears short-term considerations about Afghanistan could see the RAF and Royal Navy downgraded in relative importance.

In the final weeks of the strategic defence and security review the services appear united in the face of much more sweeping cuts than had previously been expected.

Former Army chief General Sir Mike Jackson told the BBC yesterday that it would be “perfectly possible” to increase defence spending from the current £37 billion figure, given overall public spending is close to £700 billion.

“This is a long-term strategic look at the United Kingdom’s place in the world,” he said.

“To put it against the short-term provisions of getting public spending back under control, I worry we’re going to get flawed answers.”

Cdr Muxworthy said that the potential decision to shelve the two aircraft carriers currently under construction would “negate” Britain’s global influence “immediately”.

“It is the ultimate capability to project power. Without it… we go back to being little England which we haven’t been for hundreds of years,” he warned.

“We give up status, understanding, capability on the world stage.”

Most lobby groups accept the coalition government’s sweeping spending cuts, to be unveiled in full in the comprehensive spending review on October 20th, mean military expenditure must fall in the coming years.

The UKNDA and Cdr Muxworthy do not. “Everybody except us is being terribly intelligent and pragmatic and saying ‘of course there must be cuts’,” he explained.

“What we say is – yes we understand the financial crisis but in the 1930s Winston Churchill was saying exactly the same thing… If you’re not safe everything else will eventually fall apart. We do not accept that cuts and financial cuts might be applied to the armed forces.”

Yesterday a leaked letter from Liam Fox to the prime minister revealed the defence secretary’s concerns that planned reductions in Britain’s armed forces could prove “indefensible”.

“The one thing you cannot cut are the armed forces or their budget,” Cdr Muxworthy commented. “In fact you’ve got to put more money back in.”