BRITAIN must spend more on its defence if it is to survive as an international power. That was the stark warning to his own government from Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood.
“The message has to be clear: if we want to continue to play an influential role on the international stage, with full-spectrum capability; if we want to provide the critical security that post-Brexit trade deals will demand; and if we want to remain a leading contributor in the fight against extremism in the middle east and elsewhere, we cannot continue to do all that on a defence budget of just two per cent of GDP,” he said.
Mr Ellwood’s outburst was even more extraordinary as he was the senior defence minister representing the government in a parliamentary debate on spending estimates.
“Two per cent is just not enough,” he told the House. “This is a question not just for the government and parliamentarians, but for Britain: what status, role and responsibility do we aspire to have as we seek to trade more widely in a world that is becoming more dangerous?”
A former soldier and current reservist who served in Northern Ireland, Kuwait and Bosnia, Mr Ellwood said it was ‘in our nation’s DNA to step forward when other nations might hesitate and to help to shape the world around us’.
However, he stressed: “To continue to do so will require investment. We often say that it is only with a strong economy that we can consider any increase in any budget, but I politely add that without a strong defence, a strong economy cannot be guaranteed.”
Mr Ellwood’s remarks were welcomed by MPs attending the debate, including Labour member Toby Perkins who said: “He might make a better Secretary of State than the one we have at the moment!”
Monday evening’s debate is not the first time Mr Ellwood has been at odds with his own government on the issue of defence spending. Just three months ago it was strongly rumoured he was ‘on the verge of resigning’ over military spending cuts that could have seen Army numbers fall below 70,000.