Britain’s national security adviser said on Monday that the UK’s £56bn annual budget for defence and security is unlikely to be increased following a review, potentially dealing a blow to military chiefs who are pressing for a rise.
Mark Sedwill said the UK was facing a greater threat from an increasingly aggressive Russia and Islamist extremist terrorism than anticipated at the time of the last security review in 2015.
But he told members of parliament’s national security strategy committee that the latest review was a “fiscally neutral exercise” designed to assess whether “the money already allocated is allocated in the right way”.
Mr Sedwill’s comments come as pressure grows on Philip Hammond, the chancellor, to increase defence spending amid fears some of the UK’s armed services could be cut to meet an increase in other threats such as cyber warfare.
Gavin Williamson, who took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon last month, has been involved in a public spat with Mr Hammond over defence spending, with some backbench Conservative MPs threatening to revolt unless the government agrees to release more money.
As part of his review, due to be completed in the new year, Mr Sedwill is looking at 12 different strands of national security and defence including counterterrorism, the UK’s intelligence agencies and international development.
Mr Sedwill did not rule out the possibility of more cash for some services while others faced a reduction as the overall pot was “adjusted” to meet shifting priorities.
But he insisted the current allocation of money was sufficient. “Of course if you concluded that the total set of capabilities was insufficient to meet the threats we would say that to ministers,” he said. “That’s not a conclusion I expect to reach.”
Fears of defence cuts, including to Britain’s amphibious landing ships and the Royal Marines, have grown as details of a £20bn funding hole in the UK’s defence budget have emerged in recent months.
During the hearing on Monday, Julian Lewis, a Tory, accused Mr Sedwill of being “complacent” about the size of the budget, insisting it was wrong to cut existing capabilities to increase resources to tackle newer threats.
Meanwhile a US Air Force base in East Anglia was briefly placed into lockdown on Monday after American service personnel fired shots at a man involved in what police described as a “disturbance”.
The 44-year-old man, who suffered cuts and bruises during the incident at RAF Mildenhall, was arrested and detained by Suffolk police who said the incident was not terror-related.
Despite being owned by the UK’s Ministry of Defence and classed as an RAF base, Mildenhall has functioned primarily as a US military facility for decades, currently for a refuelling wing.
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