The following interview was conducted after PMQs last Wednesday.
Bob, I wrote recently about Britain's
readiness for another Falklands type conflict.
In that piece, I compared defence spending in 1982, nearly 6% of GDP, to now,
which is significantly under half, and circa 2.4%. If we had another ' Falklands' would we be able to deal with it?
BS - I think an actual
is unlikely in the form that we had it before. The fact of the matter is that circumstances
have changed, and the circumstances are that we wouldn't be caught quite as
unprepared as before, and actually we would have sufficient force on the Falkland Islands to deter now. We didn't before. Equally
we would do things differently, and the answer to whether we could deal with
another Falklands, is yes, but differently. We
couldn't do an amphibious landing for example - we've no longer got amphibious
SD - Yes, clearly we can all accept that an actual ground invasion of the
Falkland Islands themselves is
unlikely, so how then would you compare our overall resilience now to then? Is
it as good?
BS - Definitely not. We used to have a full capability, just about in 1982. We haven't got full capability. We cannot launch a seaborne assault from a carrier force because we haven't got a carrier... and we haven't got aircraft that can do it either because you need a carrier to facilitate the aircraft. Now we haven't got the forces we had in 1982, but what we have got is far more capability with the equipment we have and equally, we are less likely than in 1982 to be caught by surprise. By that I mean we have a fairly substantial foothold on the
Falkland Islands, and the Argentineans
would be 1, foolish to try it, and 2, we could reinforce very quickly.
SD - Forgive the loaded question, but would you say then that you feel let down by cuts to our military, and the respect the army is held in today?
BS - I won't say let down - I feel devastated. I'm a right wing tory, and defence is the first duty of government. In my view, we are woefully defended at the moment.
SD - So is your party failing in that duty?
BS - yes, in a way. All governments are failing. My government is failing... All governments are failing on defence. We don't seem to have the resources to actually carry out defence as we could. We are an island, and as an island, we are required to have strong maritime forces. We don't have. The Navy is woeful, woeful at the moment. We haven't got an aircraft carrier, we haven't got the ability to look below the water line much off our shores because we've actually lost maritime surveillance capability. We haven't got the aircraft in the Royal Air Force. We haven't got all round capability in the Royal Air Force and of course, the army is woefully small. Frankly, I remain to be convinced that we will even have 30,000 army reservists in time, and anyway 82,000 plus 30,000, assuming they were there, is pretty small beer as an army. So all round, of course I'm totally gutted by defence.
SD - So then, what would you say to people, to politicians who say that cuts simply have to be made?
BS - Well the point is, I would say that too. So it's a heart and head problem here. I know it's a dichotomous argument. Look, I don't blame Philip Hammond for making the decisions he's made, but I'm not in his situation. So I feel on the one hand I'm saying this is disgraceful, yet on the other hand, you know, I'm really split in half.
SD - So it's fair to say that you think your government is failing... but you don't blame them?
BS - Yes. My government is failing to put as much in to defence as is required, but I don't blame them, and I understand why it can't happen. I am absolutely bereft. I am devastated that our Armed Forces are in the state they are, and they will continue to be.