Rishi Sunak has been attacked by opponents for not increasing the Ministry of Defence’s budget in his spring statement in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat of another world war.
Speaking at Westminster as Russia continued its bloody onslaught in Ukraine, Lord West of Spithead said the UK should not “delude” itself the nation’s military would be able to withstand an enemy in the event of a conflict, which he described as “terrifying and horrifying”.
The Labour peer and former security minister, who served as First Sea Lord from 2002-06, made his comments as he criticised the slow pace of replacing Britain’s ageing frigates with a fleet of next-generation warships.
During his spring statement the Chancellor announced a raft of new measures to support people through the cost of living crisis, but despite mentioning the war in Ukraine did not announce any new measures to sure up the UK's defence.
The UK currently spends slightly over 2% of GDP on defence each year, amounting to some £45 billion in 2021 - and meeting the recommended threshold by Nato.
Despite spending more than most of its neighbours the UK spends considerably less than it used on defence.
In the mid-1950s the UK spent almost 8% of its GDP on defence.
Lord West told Parliament: “We are closer to a world war than at any stage during the last 60 years.
“We must not delude ourselves into thinking that our armed forces are capable of standing up to a peer enemy in a face-to-face conflict.
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“With that backdrop, which is terrifying and horrifying, I was appalled that in the spring statement there was no mention of extra money for defence.”
While three existing frigates were due to leave service over the next 12 months, the first Type 26 to replace them would not be ready for five years and the last vessel not until 2043.
“God knows how many wars we will have had by then,” said Lord West.
Pressing the Government, he said: “May I ask the minister to go back to the Secretary of State for Defence and ask him to plead with the Chancellor for extra funding?
“Our nation has understood for centuries that, when under military threat, we need fighting power. What has changed?”
Responding, Tory frontbencher Viscount Younger of Leckie said the Government was committed to building eight Type 26 frigates, three of which were under construction and the five others “on track”.
“There is no issue over funding,” he added.
Lord West was joined in his criticism by former defence chief Lord Boyce, who said: “I also find the minister’s answer about the Type 26 build rate disappointing, particularly given how long it is before the first Type 26 comes into service.
“It will certainly see our frigate force level drop to being unacceptably low before the new ships come online.”
Lord Younger said: “We have a very clear programme of rolling out shipbuilding. It includes, for the first time, the Type 26s and the Type 31s.
“It is very important to say, first, that our current capability is absolutely fine and, secondly, that we will have two types of frigate on stream by the end of the decade.”