Boris Johnson was urged to give MPs a vote on his plans to slash Army troop numbers, amid claims he has been “playing with the numbers”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeatedly pressed the Prime Minister to explain why he had broken a 2019 election pledge not to cut the UK’s armed forces in “any form”, in light of the decision to reduce the size of the Army by 10,000 troops to 72,500 by 2025.
Mr Johnson insisted that spending for the UK’s armed services had increased, with £24 billion to modernise it and there would be “no redundancies” as part of the process.
But Sir Keir told the Commons: “Only this Prime Minister could suggest a reduction from 82,000 to 72,000 is somehow not a cut.
“But the Prime Minister didn’t answer my question, which is why did he make that promise?”
He added: “What did he do this week? He cut the British Army by 10,000, he cut the number of tanks, he cut the number of planes for our RAF and he cut the number of ships for the Royal Navy.”
Mr Johnson said “not only did we keep our promise in the manifesto” but the Conservatives also increased defence spending beyond their manifesto pledge.
He welcomed Labour’s “new spirit of jingo”, adding: “They don’t like it up ’em, Mr Speaker.”
Sir Keir read out an interview from Mr Johnson during the election campaign in which he promised to maintain Army numbers.
The Labour leader said: “Now I know the Prime Minister has got form for making up quotes, but can he tell us – does he think the newspapers have somehow misquoted him or does he now remember making that promise?”
The Prime Minister replied: “Yes, because there will be no redundancies in our armed forces and I said to him if you include reserves we are even keeping the Army at 100,000.
“But on top of that, we are doing what is necessary to modernise our armed forces.”
Sir Keir at this point accused Mr Johnson of “playing with the numbers”, adding: “He knows very well that the numbers have been cut.”
He also told the Commons: “What’s weaker than making a promise to our armed forces just before the election, then breaking it and not being prepared to admit it, not having the courage to admit it?
“And there’s a pattern here, (Mr Johnson) promised the NHS that they would have quote ‘whatever they need’, now nurses are getting a pay cut.
“He promised a tax guarantee, now he’s putting taxes up for families. He promised he wouldn’t cut the armed forces, now he’s done just that.
“So if the Prime Minister is so proud of what he’s doing, so determined to push ahead, why doesn’t he at least have the courage to put this cut in the armed forces to a vote in this House?”
Mr Johnson responded: “I’m proud of what we’re doing to increase spending on the armed forces by the biggest amount since the Cold War.
“The only reason we can do that is because under this Conservative Government, we’ve been running a sound economy and it’s also because we believe in defence, we’ve been getting on with the job.
“He talks about nurses and investment in the NHS, I’m proud of the massive investment that we’ve made in the NHS.”
Mr Johnson went on to accuse Labour of being “out on the streets” at “Kill the Bill” demonstrations against controversial new protest curbs.
He told MPs: “We’re getting on with the job of recruiting more police, 20,000 more police, I think we’ve done 7,000 already, while they’re (Labour) out on the streets at demonstrations shouting ‘Kill the Bill’.
“That’s the difference between his party and my party. We’re pro-vax, we’re low tax and when it comes to defence, we’ve got your backs.”
But Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “Can I just say, I genuinely mean this, I do not believe any Member of Parliament would support that ‘Kill the Bill’.
“I’ve got to be very careful … I say we are all united in this House in the support and the protection that the police do offer us and nobody would shy away from that.”