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Government looking at size of armed forces, says Ben Wallace

Ben Wallace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Ben Wallace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Defence Secretary has indicated he is looking at the size of the armed forces in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Appearing in front of the Defence Committee, Ben Wallace faced questions on his department’s budget, an issue that appear to prompt Cabinet divisions last week as the Prime Minister attended the Nato summit.

Boris Johnson promised a further £55 billion in defence spending over the rest of the decade in response to the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

He committed Britain to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the size of the economy, by the end of the decade.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson (Justin Tallis/PA)

Mr Johnson pledged the rise on Thursday after public lobbying from Mr Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Mr Wallace was pressed on any representations he had made to the Prime Minister on defence spending, as well as on the size of the armed forces.

He said the size of the Army is currently 81,000, with a scheduled plan to cut that in coming years to 73,000.

The Defence Secretary, who presented a united front with the Prime Minister on the issue, told the committee: “If the decision was to be made to increase the size of the Army, if the decision was to be made, do not be surprised if it is not in the cavalry or the infantry,” he told MPs.

“It is quite interesting how attached people are to platforms.”

Mr Wallace said the lesson of Ukraine was that more investment was needed in electronic warfare and air defence, which he described as “deeply inadequate”.

On the defence budget, he said: “I have made it perfectly clear that… before Russia invaded Ukraine, we took a decision that there would be a dip, sort of a sunset and sunrise, in capabilities.

“The threat has changed, so I take a view that some of those areas we were prepared to take a risk in are areas we should not be prepared to take that risk, and therefore have I made no secret of the fact that that is a place we would look for more money or more investment.”

Mr Wallace, asked about UK readiness for a conflict with Russia, indicated the country would be “reliant” on the Nato alliance.

That has always historically been the case, he said, but added that the UK would benefit from Finland and Sweden joining Nato.

Mr Wallace said everything he does is based around ensuring the UK is ready for war.

“In this world, which is more global than ever, you never know where it’ll come from,” he said.

“We have to deal with the ammunition stocks, we have to deal the personal equipment of these individuals, and we have to deal with the skill base in our industry, because there’ll be nothing to replace it. And then we have to ask the Chancellor.”

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