Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clash over defence cuts at PMQs

24 March 2021, 14:27 | Updated: 24 March 2021, 15:00

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sir Keir Starmer has told Boris Johnson the British Army “wouldn’t be able to retake the Falklands” as the pair clashed over defence cuts.

The angry exchange during Prime Minister's Questions came in light of the Government’s decision to reduce the size of the Army by 10,000 troops to 72,500 by 2025.

The Labour leader asked the Prime Minister why he had promised at the 2019 election that he would not cut the UK's armed forces in "any form".

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He said: "The 2015 manifesto - 'we will maintain the size of the regular armed services', the 2017 manifesto - 'we will maintain the overall size of the armed forces', 2019 - the Prime Minister - 'we will not be cutting our armed services in any form'.

"But the truth is, since 2010 our armed forces have been cut by 45,000 and our Army will now be cut to its lowest level in 300 years."

Sir Keir also cited a newspaper article which he said had quoted Mr Johnson promising "that he will not make any new cuts to the armed forces".

"He also promised - you might want to listen to this Prime Minister - he also promised to maintain numbers at their current level including the Army's 82,000," Sir Keir added.

He said former chief of the defence staff General Lord Richards has warned that with an armed force of 72,500 troops “we almost certainly wouldn't be able to retake the Falklands or stop genocide”.

The changes, set out in a newly-published defence paper earlier this week, also see the military's older tanks, ships and warplanes get scrapped or phased out and a bigger focus on cyber warfare and drones.

Pressing the Prime Minister on why he had broken a manifesto pledge, Sir Keir added: "What did he do this week? He cut the British Army by 10,000, he cut the number of tanks, he cut the number of planes for our RAF and he cut the number of ships for the Royal Navy."

Responding to Sir Keir's question of whether he is "ashamed", Mr Johnson insisted “there will be no redundancies in our armed forces” because “if you include reserves we are even keeping the Army at 100,000”.

“What we were going to do was actually increase spending on our armed services by the biggest amount since the Cold War - £24 billion modernising our armed forces, with no redundancies, keeping our army at 100,000 if you include the reserves,” he said.

He added: "This Conservative government is massively proud of the investment that we have made in our armed forces which, as I say, is the biggest uplift since the Cold War.

"We're investing in the future, and yes of course we've had to make some tough decisions, but that is because we believe in our defences and we believe that they should be more than merely symbolic."