The Prime Minister is due to land in the Spanish capital tomorrow night for key talks with allies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to reverse defence cuts as he jets to a crunch NATO summit in Madrid tomorrow.
The Prime Minister is due to land in the Spanish capital on Tuesday evening for key talks with allies following Russia ’s invasion of its neighbour.
The Tories are axing 9,000 soldiers and a third of the Army’s main battle tanks – despite growing aggression from Moscow.
The cuts to numbers of British main battle tanks were announced a year ago – nine months before Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine in February.
An £800million deal was agreed to supply the Army with 148 upgraded Challenger 3 tanks.
But the overall number of tanks will be cut from 227.
In an exclusive Mirror interview, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey called on Mr Johnson to halt the cuts to the UK’s military in light of Vladimir Putin ’s assault on Ukraine.
“When you see, as we have done, the case against such cuts being reinforced by the new threats to Britain and to European security for the next decade from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it beggars belief that the Government hasn’t been ready to rethink its plans,” he said.
“We have had deep cuts to Britain’s defences for the last decade, which have left the foundations for our British armed forces weakened.
“It makes no sense to be cutting even deeper into the British Army.”
Mr Healey signalled Labour could bolster the Army back to its 82,000 strength, which is being slashed to just 73,000 – the smallest for 300 years.
“We are redoubling our arguments for halting any further Army cuts and redoubling our arguments to rebuild the strength of the British Army,” he said.
But pressed about returning to 82,000 if Labour won power, he pledged to carry out a defence review, adding: “I don’t think you should fix a hard number without a full assessment of the threats that we face.”
The Labour frontbencher was speaking to the Mirror after visiting NATO’s Allied Maritime Command in Northwood, north west London, with party leader Keir Starmer.
The base is next to the Ministry of Defence ’s Permanent Joint Headquarters, from where all overseas military operations are planned and controlled.
Mr Healey is proud of Labour’s role in establishing NATO, which was founded in 1949 under PM Clement Attlee.
The Shadow Defence Secretary, 62, admitted part of his job was reassuring troops and voters about Labour’s commitment to NATO following four-and-a-half years of Jeremy Corbyn ’s party leadership.
The veteran peace campaigner and former Stop the War Coalition chairman had repeatedly criticised the alliance – sparking doubts about the UK’s future membership if he became PM.
Vowing to “settle any doubts that Labour in government will not do everything necessary to defend the country and keep our citizens safe”, Mr Healey said: “Labour is the party of NATO.
“We have a deep pride that it was the post-War, Labour, Attlee government that led the way in forging NATO, which is not just the basis for our collective security but hardwired into the NATO treaties and what NATO stands for are Labour values of democracy, individual freedom and rule of law.
“Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakable – and that was also a message Keir was able to underline to those serving personnel, not just of the UK contingent at the Maritime Command but also the force commanders from other countries.”
Mr Healey called on NATO leaders to use this week’s summit to “spell out how they are going to contain Putin, what forces we are going to need, what technologies we have to accelerate and also how we’re going to strengthen our homeland societies”.
He accused Moscow of trying to “divide our societies, undermine our cohesion, shake our confidence in our way of life and our democracy”.
Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Cyber attacks waged from Russia were putting at risk “our critical infrastructure”, he feared.
Pointing to the 2018 attempted assassination of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Mr Healey said the Kremlin was “behind hostile attacks” which “don’t meet the threshold of what we know as all-out conventional warfare”.
He demanded greater UK leadership within the coalition.
“I want to see us anticipating the areas of future Russian aggression, I want to see us helping lead the plans for responding as the Arctic opens up, I want to see Britain helping the alliance settling its relationships with the EU, and also setting out a plan about how to compete and challenge with China,” he said.
Mr Healey warned the MoD’s Future Soldier plans for a “fully capable warfighting division but not until 2030 raise growing doubts about Britain’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments and obligations”.
The MoD has always insisted the UK can meet its NATO commitments, and point out it is one of the few members to exceed the target of spending 2% of GDP on the military.
Two years ago the Government announced a four-year, £16.5billion surge in defence spending.