Last updated: March 2, 2013 5:28 pm

Defence minister warns Treasury on cuts

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Philip Hammond speaks during the televised Andrew Marr Show©Reuters

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, has warned that fresh cuts to the Ministry of Defence budget in this year’s spending review will lead to another set of reductions in the capability of the UK’s armed forces.

Warning that he will be “fighting the corner for my budget and defence” in the forthcoming spending review negotiations with chancellor George Osborne, Mr Hammond said the Treasury needed to focus on further cuts to the UK’s welfare budget rather than more reductions in defence.

In last year’s autumn statement, Mr Osborne announced a cut of about £500m a year in the baseline of the MoD budget after 2015-16. The spending review could add an additional £600m-a-year cut to the MoD budget, according to experts.

In recent weeks, Mr Hammond has sought to compensate for these planned cuts with a range of initiatives. He negotiated with the Department for International Development to try and divert some aid spending into the MoD budget, a move publicly backed by Prime Minister David Cameron.

But Mr Hammond’s decision to give interviews to The Sun and Daily Telegraph on Saturday warning about the potential impact of Treasury plans suggests the defence secretary believes he still has a major fight on his hands.

Mr Hammond said a cut of just 0.5 per cent in the government’s welfare bill would be enough to provide the funding the military needs.

“You take half a per cent out of the welfare budget, you’ve solved the problem in defence – half a per cent,’’ he said. “There is a body of opinion within Cabinet that believes we have to look at the welfare budget again.”

He added: We’re creating jobs in the private sector and should expect to see the welfare budget shrinking, not growing. But it’s not happening.’’

On the MoD budget, Mr Hammond said that things were “extremely taut” after huge cuts in defence spending over recent years.

There will be zero political support from Conservative backbenchers for any additional cuts

- Mark Pritchard, MP

“There may be some modest reductions we can make through further efficiencies and we will look for those, but we won’t be able to make significant further cuts without eroding military capability.”

The Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank, warned this week that the Treasury’s plans imply defence would be cut by £1.1bn this year, meaning a reduction of £11bn over the next decade.

Mr Hammond’s decision to get into a public fight with the Treasury over defence cuts is likely to go down well with some Conservative MPs.

Backbencher Mark Pritchard said Mr Hammond could expect strong support from fellow Tories for his uncompromising stand on defence.

“Defence cuts have gone far enough,’’ he said. “There will be zero political support from Conservative backbenchers for any additional cuts beyond those already announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Treasury needs to look elsewhere for additional savings.’’

In depth

Defence in the downturn

British army officers look at a Eurofighter Typhoon fighter airplane, during preparations on the eve of the Farnborough aerospace show, in Farnborough, England

Britian’s role in the world of contrained defence budgets

However, such a move would trigger tension with the Conservatives’ Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert said building a fairer society meant helping those struggling on low incomes and Mr Hammond could not expect special treatment.

“He has to accept that in times of austerity when there are difficulties with spending money, it is important for us to be far more efficient in terms of Ministry of Defence spending, not to waste money on gold plating, but to provide the troops with the support they need and deserve, rather than to take money from people who really don’t have spare money,’’ he told BBC News.

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