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'We've shredded our armed forces': Ex-MI6 chief declares Britain is not properly defended amid threat from Russia

5 September 2023, 19:26 | Updated: 5 September 2023, 20:22

Sir Richard said the armed forces have been shredded
Sir Richard said the armed forces have been shredded. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A former head of MI6 has told LBC he does not believe Britain is properly defended as the world enters a dangerous new era.

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With full scale war returning to Europe and and China increasingly becoming more assertive, Sir Richard Dearlove said he fears the UK has "run down our armed forces".

He spoke after successive budget cuts shredded the British Army over time despite Russia's destabilisation of its neighbours, culminating in a bloody invasion that has caused tens of thousands of deaths.

Asked by LBC's Andrew Marr if he believed Britain is properly defended, Sir Richard, who headed MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said: "No, I do not.

Read more: North Korea's Kim Jong-un to travel to Russia for Ukraine war arms deal

"We need a much larger defence budget. But that's a tough decision for any British government to take at the moment because of the other demands on the budget, but we've run down our armed forces.

"Our strategic defence reviews have come up with some pretty odd decisions and we need to be thinking hard about future defence capability.

'We've run down our armed forces': Former MI6 boss says the UK is not probably defended

"And there are some signs of that, but it's pretty close to midnight, in my view."

He referenced undersea cables, which connect Europe and North America and allow data to flow, as being potentially vulnerable to a Russian attack.

The government is pressing ahead with plans to reduce the core army to about 73,000 people, down from some 100,000 in 2010.

Read more: British volunteer, 22, dies fighting in Ukraine as devastated brother pays tribute

That is despite Russia launching its devastating invasion which has once again brought tank warfare and trench combat back to Europe.

Mass, the sheer amount of troops that can be brought into battle, has proved to still have relevance given how many casualties both sides are taking and the length of the frontline.

In June, it was reported that General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of the British Army, would step down over proposed cuts to the force.

There have been calls for more defence spending
There have been calls for more defence spending. Picture: Alamy

He reportedly told Ben Wallace, who has recently quit as defence secretary, that he could not provide a more effective force without being given more soldiers and money.

A defence review, which included a tilt slightly away from Europe to focus a bit more on the Indo-Pacific region, had to be refreshed after Russia's invasion.

But it did not lead to any major reversal in the army's shrinking.

The Ministry of Defence said its defence review update, called the Integrated Review Refresh 2023, "sets out the four ways in which the UK will protect its core national interests – the sovereignty, security and prosperity of the British people – as well as its higher interest in an open and stable international order of enhanced cooperation and well-managed competition".

Wallace, who has since been replaced by Grant Shapps as he said he wanted to focus on other things in life, said in July, as the new review was published: "As Russia has so effectively proven, there is no point in having parade ground Armies, mass ranks of men and machines if they cannot be integrated as a single full spectrum force, sustained in the field under all demands of modern warfighting.

"That takes professional forces, well-equipped and rapidly adaptable, supported by critical enablers and vast stockpiles of munitions.

"And that is why in this document you won't find a shiny new announcement, comms-led policy driving, unsustainable force designs or any major new platforms for military enthusiasts to put up on their charts of their bedroom wall."

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