Cutbacks leave UK with smallest army since Victorian times

Jul 5, 2012

Five battalions go and total strength drops from 102,000 to 82,000 in radical reorganisation

Getty Images

THE British Army is to lose 17 units, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced today, in reforms that will see 20,000 full-time troops axed. Five battalions will disappear entirely in the reorganisation - the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh.

Three units will go from the Royal Logistics Corp, with the same number being cut from the Royal Engineers. The Army Air Corps will lose one unit and other jobs will go in units being merged.

Hammond said the cuts were "about the delivery of the future army, recognising and honouring the golden past of the army. Our first priority is to the army of the future."

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the Army cuts, which will see the standing full-time force reduced by about a fifth from 102,000 to 82,000, had been cynically delayed not to coincide with last week's Armed Forces Day. He also noted that plans to double reservist forces to 30,000 could not compensate for losing 20,000 full-time regulars.

Tory MP Sir Peter Tapsell voiced concerns that one day the country would need to increase the army's size and demanded to know if the plans allowed for this, while Bob Stewart, a fellow Conservative and former soldier, noted that Scottish regiments had got off lightly as the government sought to shore up support ahead of the country's referendum on independence.

The Spectator noted today that the review is "uncomfortable for the Tories, who have long enjoyed the reputation of being the party of the armed forces. [ConHome editor] Tim Montgomerie tweeted this morning: 'Biggest tax burden since WWII. Smallest army since Victorian times. This isn't Conservatism'."

Meanwhile, the former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, told the BBC 's Today programme that the plans were "risky" and would mean that Britain would only be able to engage in one major operation at a time. "Let us hope that the next decade is a rather more peaceful decade that the last decade, but I wouldn't bet on it," Dannatt said.

"There is no getting way from the fact that the Army will be 20 per cent smaller by 2020. The Army will be agile, it will be capable of being involved in one operation at a time, it won't be capable of getting involved in two operations at the same time like Iraq and Afghanistan," the crossbench peer warned.

For the Daily Mail, Allan Mallinson said that "Hammond is taking a gamble of huge proportions - he must not quit before he has seen it through", stressing the need for the Tories to steward the changes politically over the next five years, rather than moving the minister on to another department in the post-Olympics reshuffle.

If that happens, Mallinson says baldly, "it will be a real signal that the Tories are no longer serious about defence."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

There is no way around the need to make cuts. We have been trying to do too much with too little for decades and this is no longer sustainable. Since the early 1990s the Army has been designed for global intervention purposes rather than national defence. Scarce resources should be concentrated on the Navy and Air Force as the large scale deployment of land forces is a thing of the past. At least the coalition is being upfront about the cuts rather than running down and hollowing out the armed forces by stealth.