A Tory MP has warned that Britain’s navy is now so small that it may not be able to protect key shipping lanes. James Arbuthnot, outgoing chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, condemned the government’s defence policy, which has seen Britain’s navy reduced to just 23 major ships.
He also branded Defence Secretary Philip Hammond a “money man” and “control freak” for reducing Britain’s armed forces, and said that if David Cameron wants to remain Prime Minister after the next election he must keep his promise to increase defence spending.
Speaking to the Sun newspaper, Mr Arbuthnot issued a grave warning about Britain’s ability to protect important shipping lanes: “Goods, food, fuel come to us by sea, much of it through the Suez Canal. We need to be able to protect our supply lines.
“Because of the comfortable security of our commercial system, we have now moved in this country to a position of total reliance on [getting goods] just in time [for consumption].
“We have abolished all the warehouses we used to have and turned them into flats. And we have got no stocks of food or fuel or essential goods to last us for any reasonable length of time.”
He added that when he was a defence minister in John Major’s Conservative government “the idea of going below 50 serious ships was a major concern.”
“We are now at 19. If someone wanted to close the Suez Canal, it would be really quite easy to do. I don’t know how many days food or fuel we have, but we will certainly find the price of everything going up quickly.
“If I wished ill to this country, it is what I would do,” he said.
The government’s defence cuts have left Britain with just 23 major warships, including 19 frigates and destroyers. This is just a fraction of the 73 it had at the time of the Falklands War in 1982.
Mr Arbuthnot also said the future governments should remember the thousands of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001: “The nation owes so much to those who fought and received terrible injuries, sometimes mental sometimes physical.
“We have a duty to do everything we can do to reduce their impact.”