Britain’s new Defence Secretary has arrived for his first official trip – and flown straight into his first row over proposals to cut the UK’s Armed Forces.
Gavin Williamson arrived to meet other Nato defence chiefs at a summit in Brussels in his first foreign meeting since his controversial appointment last week.
But he faces a clash with American allies after Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commanding general of the US Army in Europe, warned looming cuts would undermine Britain’s role as a ‘global leader’.
UK defence chiefs are grappling with how to plug a gaping funding whole of between £20 billion and £30 billion over the next decade.
The Ministry of Defence is considering slashing the size of its 6,640-strong Royal Marine force, cutting the army from 82,000 to 65,000 or ditching HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.
Newly-appointed Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured today on the left at the Nato summit in Brussels meeting the Turkish defence chief Nuretin Canikli. He is braced for a clash with US allies after an American general warned Britain not to go ahead with proposed defence cuts
Gavin Williamson and the British delegation sit down for talks with their Turkish counterparts at the Nato meeting today. Mr Williamson was promoted from chief whip to Defence Secretary last week, but his elevation sparked an outcry among Tory MPs who said he was woefully under qualified for the job
But Lieutenant General Hodges said any erosion of our armed forces risks turning Britain into a secondary military force.
Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme, he said: ‘Of course, each nation will make its own choices about its priorities, how much it spends, what it needs to do.
‘But the UK is a global leader, it’s a leader in Nato – the most successful alliance in the history of the world.
‘But Nato won’t always be the most successful alliance in he history of the world if all of its members don’t invest, resource, do the work which is necessary to keep it that way.
‘I don’t see how the UK can maintain, sustain those global commitments, if it got any smaller.’
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commanding general of the US Army in Europe (pictured in Poland in June) warned looming cuts would undermine Britain’s role as a ‘global leader’
The military chief warned that cutting Britain’s military capabilities risks sending the UK ‘into a different sort of category’.
And he said the the UK’s ability to take on enemies would be harmed if we scrap our amphibious assault ships HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.
He said: ‘I would hate to lose a particular capability or take an option off the table.
‘That makes the problem a little bit simpler for any potential adversary if you say, OK we are not going to have that particular capability.
‘Two of the best officers I have ever met in my life – Gordon Messenger and Ed Davis – are two royal marines.
Sir Michael Fallon, pictured last week after quitting as Defence Secretary amid the sex harassment row. Theresa May replaced him with Gavin Williamson in a highly controversial move by the PM
‘I’d hate to see an institution who produced two men like that, be degraded.’
Theresa May shocked Westminster when she promoted Mr Williamson from chief whip to Defence Secretary last week after Sir Michael was forced to quit over the sex harassment scandal.
His surprise appointment appalled many Tory MPs who warned he lacks the ministerial experience to take up such an important Cabinet job.
Mr Williamson will use today’s meeting to announce Britain is sending four RAF jets to Romania to beef up security ‘in the face of an increasingly assertive Russia’.
The fast jets will be redeployed to the country working with the UK’s Romanian allies to police the Black Sea skies after a stint last summer, the Ministry of Defence said.
Mr Williamson will also say the UK is preparing to increasing its presence in the Western Balkans.
The MoD said that from 2018 a battalion will be held at ‘high readiness to respond to any situation in the region’ which would see 600 soldiers ready to go into the region at short notice.
Mr Williamson said: ‘In the face of an increasingly assertive Russia, the UK has significantly stepped up its commitment to Europe and today I can confirm a further package of support, showing how we remain at the forefront on European security.
‘We are standing by our allies across air; deploying Typhoons to southern air policing in Romania, land; increasing our support to the Kosovo peacekeeping operation, and sea; with HMS Ocean returning to the Nato standing maritime group.’