Last-ditch meeting on defence cuts

By Peter Wozniak

The National Security Council (NSC) are to discuss the impending cuts to the defence budget, amid fears that key programmes will be for the chop.

Among the big ticket items being considered are two new aircraft carriers costing £5.4 billion – with concern that cancellation of one or both of them may actually cost more money than continuing with the building programme.

There is growing concern that the strategic defence and security review (SDSR), which will determine the future of Britain’s armed forces, is being increasingly overshadowed by the need to make savings.

The defence secretary Liam Fox is known, from a leaked letter to the prime minister, to be deeply uncomfortable with the cuts drive being imposed by the Treasury.

David Cameron gave away little in his speech to the Conservative conference yesterday, as he told delegates the state of the defence budget was “catastrophic”, but insisted he would “not take risks with British security”.

The prime minister did however say that there would be a shift away from cold war oriented commitments, such as maintaining armoured brigades in Germany.

Meanwhile, politicians from Scotland of all stripes, where many contracts and defence industries are based, have made their case to the defence secretary against cuts – arguing that the result would be drastic economic decline.

Gordon Brown has also openly opposed scrapping the aircraft carriers, calling the project “vital” for the UK’s security.

With the army on active operations in Afghanistan, analysts expect the Royal Navy and RAF to bear much of the spending squeeze in defence.

It is feared that even if the carrier programme goes ahead, the fighters they are designed to support will not be spared George Osborne’s axe – while the Royal Navy may be forced to make drastic cuts to the rest of the surface in order to compensate.

The SDSR is being completed concurrently with the comprehensive spending review. The results of both will be revealed later this month.