More defence cuts will leave a Dad's Army
The Armed Forces risk being reduced to little more than a home guard if the defence budget is squeezed any further, a former defence minister and West Country MP has warned.
Sir Nick Harvey, who lost his job as Armed Forces Minister in last year's reshuffle, said the Royal Navy already had too few warships to carry out all the tasks allotted to it.
In an interview with Parliament's The House magazine, Sir Nick, Liberal Democrat for North Devon, said: "You can cut and cut and cut and cut until there's nothing left, but you will cease to have coherence and you will cease to have the ability to deploy a worthwhile number in a conflict situation if you take it much further. We're pretty close to the bone anyway. I don't think we can take it any further.
"If all we wanted to do was to defend our shores you could move to a sort of home guard, but if we want to continue our international efforts to defend out global interests, and the UK does have global economic reach, there is a critical mass below which you cannot dip and still make a worthwhile contribution – and we're not far from it. We lost things we could not afford to lose already. The Royal Navy has got too few vessels in service, too little manpower, to execute the tasks already being asked of it."
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Four battleships were cut at Plymouth's Devonport Naval Base and hundreds of jobs lost in bases across the region.
Sir Nick said low morale was not helped by the latest round of redundancies coming the day after the announcement of deployment to Africa over Mali.
"You freeze pay. You cut allowances, you slash numbers. You work those who are left all the harder to make up for those who have gone. You throw in, for good measure, doubt about where people are going to be based, doubt about what their future pensions are going to look like," he said.
"By the time you have compounded all those things together it's just inevitable that morale is going to be suffering."
He also questioned whether the Treasury really should spend £20 billion replacing Trident and said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a "mistake" in allowing the removal of Lib Dem ministers from the MoD and the Foreign Office in the reshuffle in September.
Last week, reports emerged suggesting that the MoD had drawn up secret plans to axe hundreds of posts that could have an impact on the effectiveness of the SAS.
According to some sources, 600 jobs could go among specialist back-up teams for the elite regiment, which has its headquarters in Credenhill, Hereford.
Defence chiefs are targeting the back-up services because they say the number of support units has increased dramatically during the war in Afghanistan, and that as UK forces pull out of the country, there is scope for cuts.
This news emerged days after the Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised to boost defence spending after 2015.