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Government has 'hollowed out and underfunded' the British army, defence secretary Ben Wallace admits
30 January 2023, 15:41 | Updated: 30 January 2023, 16:12
The government has "hollowed out and underfunded" the army, defence secretary Ben Wallace has admitted, following claims by an American general that the UK is no longer a top-tier fighting force.
The British armed forces have suffered cuts for years, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine highlighting an increased need for investment and upgraded capabilities.
Mr Wallace was challenged in the House of Commons by his Labour counterpart John Healey on Monday after the US general's comments.
Mr Healey said: "When Labour left government in 2010, the British Army stood at over 100,000 full-time troops and we were spending 2.5% of GDP on defence.
"The serious hollowing-out has happened since. Who does he think has been in charge over the last 13 years?"
Mr Wallace responded: "You only have to listen to the veterans on this side to understand their experience under a Labour government...
He added: "If (Mr Healey) wants to be the next secretary of defence, he should come here and get off his chest the shortcomings that his former government did.
"I'm happy to say that we have hollowed out and underfunded. Will he do the same? Or will he hide behind petty party politics?"
It came after minister James Heappey told the Commons on Monday: "I think everybody is clear. The secretary of state has said many times, as have I and other ministerial colleagues, that serial under-investments in the army over decades has led to the point where the army is in urgent need of recapitalisation.
"The chancellor and the prime minister get that and there is a budget coming."
Mr Wallace was briefed by a senior US general, who described the British army as "no longer" being considered one of the world's premier fighting forces, according to Sky News.
Meanwhile one UK defence source said: "Bottom line... it's an entire service unable to protect the UK and our allies for a decade."
It's reported that Rishi Sunak has the potential to be labelled a 'failing' "wartime prime minister" if he doesn't increase investment in the nations' armed forces.
"We have a wartime prime minister and a wartime chancellor," one source said.
"History will look back at the choices they make in the coming weeks as fundamental to whether this government genuinely believes that its primary duty is the defence of the realm or whether that is just a slogan to be given lip service."
It follows the news Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in the UK for Challenger 2 tank training, following the pledge to send vehicles to the war torn country.
It also coincides with Germany's announcement to send Leopard tanks to the region, at a time when European powers including France and Germany look set to boost defence spending significantly in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
As part of the comments, its suggested Britain's defence budget should be upped by at least £3 billion a year;
It follows ongoing plans to decrease spending and the size of the army even further.
Peacetime procurement rules are currently said be obstruct the UK's ability to buy weapons and ammunition at speed, adding to the issue.