Ex-Colonel warns Sir Keir Starmer that 'appallingly poor state' of British military will not deter Russians

Sir Keir Starmer must prioritise getting defence spending up to 2.5 per cent of GDP as soon as possible, a former Catterick Garrison Colonel has said, who warned the British military is in an “appallingly poor state”.

The new Prime Minister is attending a Nato summit in Washington, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is certain to be top of the agenda. Labour has said it will increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP “as soon as possible”, but failed to match the former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s timeline of 2030 during the election campaign.

Philip Ingram MBE, who served in the army for more than 26 years and commanded troops at Catterick Garrison, told the Yorkshire Post: “It shouldn’t be an aspiration when the conditions are right, it should be a recognition that the threat is there and they should spend a minimum of 2.5 per cent.”

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Mr Ingram cited cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns on our elections, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the expanding influence of China, as the key security threats.

Sir Keir Starmer visits the Tapa NATO forward operating base in Estonia close to the Russian border in December. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireSir Keir Starmer visits the Tapa NATO forward operating base in Estonia close to the Russian border in December. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Sir Keir Starmer visits the Tapa NATO forward operating base in Estonia close to the Russian border in December. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

“The government is inheriting a very, very, very unstable world,” he said. "In over 40 years of analysing this sort of stuff, both in the military and outside the military, this is the first time I can see not just one, but two or three potential paths to a global conflict.”

The former Colonel said he did not think either government had been strong enough in supporting Ukraine, and agreed with the warning from General Sir Patrick Sanders, the former head of the army, that the British military was so depleted that it would struggle to fight a small war for more than a month.

“There’s been a good start with Keir Starmer’s government reinforcing the unwavering support for Ukraine, however there needs to be more done than just words,” Mr Ingram said.

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“The small amount of ammunition and weapons actually reflects the appallingly poor state that the British military is in. Various governments for many years have allowed it to get in an appalling state, and that needs to be turned around and will take a lot of money.

“Getting a military capability that will deter the Russians from taking their high intensity conventional war outside the boundaries of Ukraine, or to be able to respond to it if it comes to the unlikely point that Nato has to get directly engaged, requires a massive growth.”

New Defence Secretary John Healey said in his first speech to military personnel: “We know these are serious times – war in Europe, conflict in the Middle East, growing Russian aggression, increasing global threats. We know there are serious problems – with our Armed Forces hollowed out and underfunded for 14 years. And this government now is totally committed to 2.5 per cent of defence spending, to Nato, to the nuclear deterrent and to support Ukraine.”

The Wentworth and Dearne MP has already travelled to the war zone and pledged more artillery guns and shells along with nearly 100 Brimstone missiles to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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However there has been anger at the news that the Labour government is removing the post of Veterans Minister, with Healey covering this area in Cabinet. Mr Ingram said some of his soldiers from Catterick had got in touch to express their fury at this move.

“This has alienated all veterans,” he explained. “Unless there is an independent office holding the Ministry of Defence to account, and that includes John Healey, then that will continue to happen if not get worse. Yorkshire veterans have got in contact with me really concerned about the support they will get going forward.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Veterans are part of our military family and the Secretary of State will drive work with Cabinet colleagues to deliver for them.”

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