Tories in turmoil as Hammond says Cameron hasn't promised to protect defence

Defence Secretary forced to clarify that the PM's pledge to protect spending only applies to defence equipment, not the total budget.

Back in 2010, when David Cameron rather optimistically believed that George Osborne's deficit reduction plan would succeed, he promised Conservative MPs that defence spending would rise in the next parliament. "My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015," he said.

With the ever-more hawkish Cameron now talking of a "generational struggle" against African jihadism, Tory MPs and armed forces chiefs have understandably demanded that this pledge be kept. The front page of today's Telegraph suggests that they have succeeded. "No more defence cuts, says Cameron" reads the headline, with the paper reporting that "the Treasury will increase defence spending above inflation from 2015, even as it cuts other Whitehall departments’ budgets." 

But interviews this morning with the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, suggest that the pledge isn't as bold as it appears. Hammond told Sky News that contrary to the Telegraph's splash, the promise only applies to defence equipment, not total spending.

"I think what the Prime Minister was referring to was the pledge that was made – which Treasury ministers have repeated – that the equipment plan, the part of the defence budget which funds equipment, will rise by 1 per cent a year in real-terms after 2015. And the Treasury has re-confirmed that commitment since the announcements in the Autumn Statement," he said. In other words, Cameron hasn't ring-fenced defence at all and the cuts (which amount to 7.5 per cent by 2015) will continue.

"I don't expect to be exempt," Hammond said. And with spending on the NHS, international development and schools already protected, it would be surprising if he did. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has already described the likely 16 per cent reduction in spending on non-ring-fenced departments as "inconceivable". Protecting defence would mean even greater cuts to areas like the police, higher education, welfare and local government. 

Quite how Cameron led the press to believe that he had pledged to increase defence spending is unclear. But by reminding his MPs (many of whom are furious that defence has been cut while overseas aid has been increased) that he won't be able to keep his 2010 promise, he has done himself no favours. 

David Cameron meets British soldiers based at Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Brexit broke my heart - but I'm going to fight for the 16 million who voted Remain

We must accept the voters' decision, but not give up on our beliefs.

The European Community, an institution that we built, that delivered peace, that promoted equality, kept us safe and opened the doors of opportunity, will no longer play part of Britain’s future. As one of the 16 million remain votes and a passionate pro-European the result hurts me deeply.

With this vote, the very fabric of our country has changed, the whole fabric of Europe has been changed.

Even though the vote was close, the majority of British people want us to leave. We must accept that decision but we refuse to give up on our beliefs.

Our optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand for a better kind of Britain than the one painted by the Leave campaign. Since the polls closed thousands of people have joined our party as they look across at Labour party who dont seem to care. Their spineless leadership has meant we have sleepwalked to Brexit.

As Gladstone said almost 130 years ago – ‘We are part of the community of Europe, and must do our duty as such.’

We must not let this vote allow our country to turn to division, isolation and decline. Our national interest does not end at the cliffs of Dover.

I believe that this vote was not a vote on the European Union alone. It was a collective howl of frustration - at the political class, at big business, at a global elite.

Years of frustration, dissatisfaction and people feeling ignored have been building to this point.  Too often the European Union has been used as a distraction from failures in government.

The pressures on our schools, the pressures on our hospitals and GP surgeries, the pressures on our infrastructure are problems made in Westminster, in our own Parliament, by British politicians.

For the last few weeks I have stood alongside progressives, in Labour, Greens and Conservatives. It felt so much like there was more that united us than divided us.

We must not allow this unity to fade away.

When other parties are divided and wounded, I will reach out. I am proud of the campaign that my party has run, it was positive, energetic and hopeful. That’s the sort of party we are, and that is my offer to the country. It is my offer to all people who share our values.

I can offer you a home for a new modern breed of politics - liberal, hopeful, international, rational - driven by real British values.

Positive about Europe, furious with those who led us to this disaster. Determined that we will not walk away from this fight.

There are 16 million of us saying that this fight is not over. This is our country too. If you are as angry and heartbroken as I am, I need you to join us today.

 

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.