Ben Wallace grilled by Tobias Ellwood on new defence budget
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Tobias Ellwood made it clear he was unhappy with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the less-than-hoped-for increase in defence spending as Tory MPs piled in to criticise the announcement. Mr Ellwood, who chairs the Commons Defence Select Committee, publicly thanked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace “for his efforts” in trying to get more.
Mr Wallace took defence questions today in the Commons just hours after the Prime Minister had revealed his spending plans for the military at a summit in San Diego.
A quote from the Defence Secretary had not been included in the press release on the announcement of a £5billion rise and a long-term aim of 2.5 percent of GDP.
Mr Wallace had been pushing for increasing spending by £10billion in the next two years and seeking to make it three percent of GDP long term.
Asking a question in the Commons, Mr Ellwood did not name the Prime Minister or Chancellor Jeremy Hunt but made a clear dig at both men.
He said: “Could I just pause and say thank you to the defence secretary and his team for the tireless work they have done in getting additional funding £11billion worth an additional level of defence spending of 2.5 percent.
“It wasn’t to be our military will be affected by that, not least our land forces.”
He also pointed out that if the additional defence spending is subject to VAT then 20 percent of the cash announced “will go back to the Treasury.”
Mr Ellwood was not the only Tory MP to express anger.
Basildon and Billericay MP John Baron asked: “What does he think it will take for this House, given geo-political events, to sustainably increase defence spending?”
North Wiltshire MP James Gray said: “I very much pay tribute to the secretary of state and hthe entire defence team for the battle they have thought with the Treasury over the last few weeks but the £5 billion is disappointing particularly if £3 billion [of it] goes to AUKUS [submarines].
“It actually means a cut in defence spending not an increase in it.”
New Forest East MP Sir Julian Lewis chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, pointed out that the proportions of money spent on defence during and after the Cold War were much higher.
He said: “Bear in mind when negotiating with the Treasury now, any investment made in defence now for the purposes of deterrence will be miniscule with what we would have to spend if Heaven forbid the war with Ukraine escalates into a war with NATO.”
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Mr Wallace said he “completely concurred” with Sir Julian.
He went on: “Defence is not a discretionary spend. It is not an add on. It is a core function of any state.”
He also clashed with Labour MPs on the spending blaming the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown led governments for the current predicament.
He said: “Labour inherited 2.7 percent [in 1997] it continued to fall all the way and only at the very last minute when they had a £36billion black hole did they try and rectify it.”
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