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6 March 2011

Liam Fox says defence cuts are necessary

Defence Secretary plays a straight bat in television interview.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

In an open letter to the Prime Minister published today in the Independent on Sunday, 50 senior military figures, politicians and academics call for the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to be reopened, arguing that financial considerations have trumped military ones:

The Strategic Defence and Security Review seems to have been driven by financial rather than military considerations. Recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have highlighted the unpredictability of global security – there was no mention of North Africa in the SDSR at all. The security landscape has radically changed and some of the assumptions on which the review was based should be reconsidered.

The irony of HMS Cumberland, which faces being decommissioned, playing a key role in evacuations from Benghazi is not lost on those who take an interest in the future of the Royal Navy. The announcement of redundancies in the RAF on the same day as speculation about enforcing a no-fly zone was also regrettable.

Britain’s ability to play a role in the event of military action in Libya has been called into question in recent days. In light of the new potential threats posed by unrest in North Africa, we urge David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, to reopen the SDSR and ensure the forces are properly structured and adequately funded to meet the nation’s requirements.

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Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr this morning for his reaction to the letter, the Defence Secretary stolidly defended the SDSR, blaming in now time-honoured fashion the need to make cuts on the fiscal “black hole” left behind by Labour. Fox said he felt “very sad” that thousands of servicemen were being given their P45s, but insisted that “you cannot be secure if you’re broke” – which rather bears out the analysis made in that open letter.

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Marr also asked Fox about reports that a unit from the SAS had been seized by opposition forces in Libya’s second city, Benghazi. Fox admitted that a British “diplomatic team” was in Benghazi trying to make contact with the opposition, but said it would be “inappropriate” to say anything more.

As for British policy on Libya, Fox made two significant remarks. First, he complained that the disparate, incohate nature of the opposition to Muammar al-Gaddafi made it “a difficult situation to understand”, though he insisted that the government wanted “to be able to work with [opposition groups]”; as for plans for a no-fly zone over Libya, Fox said they remained a “possibility”, and that contingency plans were being laid with Britain’s partners in Nato.

There were no plans, however, for British land forces to be used if the situation in Libya deteriorated.