UK has failed to prepare for war in a 'whole nation endeavour', two ex-defence ministers warn

7 April 2024, 07:38

James Heappey and Ben Wallace have said the UK has failed to prepare for war
James Heappey and Ben Wallace have said the UK has failed to prepare for war. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The UK has failed to prepare for war in a 'whole nation endeavour', two ex-defence ministers have warned.

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Outgoing Armed Forces minister James Heappey revealed that only Ministry of Defence (MoD) staff turned up to an exercise to prepare for wartime scenarios - despite being intended for the whole of government.

Speaking just weeks after announcing that he would be stepping down from his post, Mr Heappey said ministers needed to do more to prepare for conflict, with the UK already running behind other allies.

He gave the example of Sweden, where the government has handed out a booklet explaining what to do in a time of war, including which emergency food provisions to store.

Former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace agreed, saying too many people are "just hoping everything will go away".

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Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Heappey said: "It's a stark reminder that war is a whole-nation endeavour and, to be frank, in the UK we're a very long way behind."

He pointed to a "whole of government exercise" which Mr Wallace had "pushed hard for" as defence secretary, aimed at getting ministers and officials into a war bunker to see what their working environment would be.

"In the end, rather depressingly, it was just defence ministers, senior military officers and MoD officials that participated," Mr Heappey said.

"It’s a shame that the whole of Whitehall didn’t get involved, not only because it was a useful exercise in continuity of government and would have exposed how out of date many of our procedures now are, but also because – once the doors of the bunker are sealed – the mood does quickly change and you start to ask yourself very seriously what your job is in the most dangerous moment our nation could face."

Sir David Lidington: 'It's about equipping people with the skills that would be needed to keep civilised life running in the event of an attack'

Meanwhile, Mr Wallace said: "The growing instability and insecurity directed at Britain and her allies means that the whole of society needs to make a step change towards recognising that our core duty is to think about our defence and our resilience.

"It's how we used to think during the Cold War, and everyone from local government to the MoD played their part."

He claimed the MoD had already made such a change, adding that "there are too many people in government and society relying on just hoping everything will go away".

It comes as Rishi Sunak is facing growing pressure to increase defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).

A government spokesman said an extra £24 billion is set to be invested in the armed forces between 2020 and 2025, which he described as the largest sustained investment since the Cold War.

"The UK has robust plans in place for a range of potential emergencies and scenarios, with plans and supporting arrangements developed, refined and tested over many years," he added.

A national resilience framework has been set up in a bid to equip citizens with more information about how to survive in crisis scenarios.

Deputy PM Oliver Dowden suggested people stock up on candles, first aid kits and battery-powered torches and radios to prepare themselves at the end of 2023.

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