Departing general warns against defence cuts

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DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond has insisted he is listening to critics of the Government’s policies after one of Britain’s most senior generals warned restructuring the Army is “one hell of a risk” that will weaken the Armed Forces.

General Sir Richard Shirreff warned that the “jury is out still” on plans to slash numbers in the regular army and substitute them with reservists, saying if the idea is going to work “the nation needs to get behind” it.

The general added that defence cuts had “hollowed out” the Armed Forces, particularly the Royal Navy, which has been “cut to the bone” and left unable to take part in Nato maritime operations. Russia’s takeover of Crimea meant it was imperative for the UK to protect its defence budget, he said, even if that meant other departments suffered.

The general, the army’s third most senior officer, stepped down from his post as Nato deputy supreme commander on Friday and will leave the Army in August. His warning comes days after MPs warned Prime Minister David Cameron against any further cuts to Britain’s armed forces in the wake of Russian’s annexation of Crimea.

The Government is cutting the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, while the newly-renamed Army Reserve – formerly the Territorial Army – is being expanded from 19,000 to 30,000.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stressed he was listening to critics but “much of what I’m hearing is nonsense”. He maintained the UK still had the world’s fourth largest defence budget and was a “credible, capable and reliable” ally to the US.

“Of course we have had to make savings, of course we have had to take some very tough decisions,” he said. “But we are working with the military chiefs to make sure we prioritise our very large defence budget, invest it in the areas that are going to matter in the future and I recognise that sometimes that has meant we have had to take decisions that have upset some people about legacy capabilities.”