Jeremy Hunt has promised to safeguard Scotland’s shipbuilding industry by supporting further work at the country’s yards if he becomes prime minister, thanks to a proposed boost in the defence budget.
The Tory leadership candidate and foreign secretary told The Scotsman he considered it his “duty” to ensure the country’s “proud shipbuilding” traditions continue for “as long as possible”. He stressed his commitment to hiking defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP – an increase of £15 billion – would protect skilled jobs at the likes of Rosyth.
The foreign secretary said the ongoing tensions in the Gulf, which will see Britain bolster its military presence in the region next week with the arrival of another warship amid rising tensions with Iran, demonstrated how the Royal Navy has been “run down too much” in recent decades.
He has pledged to review Britain’s existing commitment of 19 destroyers and frigates if he succeeds Theresa May, with plans to look at whether extra Type 31 frigates of offshore patrol vessels are required.
Mr Hunt told The Scotsman that by delivering a “historic funding boost” for the armed forces, it would benefit Scottish industry.
He said: “As the son of a naval officer who was based in Rosyth for several years, I would view it as my duty to try and ensure the proud shipbuilding traditions of those docks continued for as long as possible.
“Backed by my promise to increase the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP, my government would support further shipbuilding in Scotland.
He added: “My commitment would seek to protect skilled jobs by delivering more work to dockyards across the UK, including at Rosyth.”
It is unclear how any increase in the navy’s complement would impact on shipyards on the Clyde.
BAE’s yards in Govan and Scotstoun have a contract to build three Type 26 frigates. Initial talks are underway between the firm and the Ministry of Defence to construct a further five frigates, which would secure work in the area for the next two decades.
Any additional production would likely require an increase in manufacturing capacity. The UK government’s next full-scale Strategic Defence and Security Review is due next year.
It comes as Mr Hunt called for “cool heads” to prevail to ensure there was no “unintended escalation” in the Gulf.
It was confirmed yesterday that HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer that is in the Mediterranean, will next week join HMS Montrose – the frigate that drove off Iranian patrol boats attempting to impede the progress of a British tanker. While HMS Montrose will eventually be relieved for maintenance work and crew changes, it is expected the two ships will be present in the region for a spell amid growing concerns over Iranian threats to disrupt shipping in the strategically important waterway.
The Ministry of Defence said the move “will ensure that the UK alongside international partners can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane”.
Mr Hunt said: “We have a responsibility to protect British shipping and, with our allies, to protect the waterways and seaways of the world, so we have to react according to the threats that we face.
“But this is not an Iran-specific issue – notwithstanding the broader tensions in the region. This is about Syria and about a breach of the sanctions against Syria, which of course is a country that Iran is active in.”
Tehran yesterday reiterated calls for the UK to release an Iranian-owned oil tanker that was seized by Royal Marines over suspicions it was violating EU sanctions by transporting a shipment of oil to Syria.
But Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, warned Britain was entering into a “dangerous game” that would have “consequences”. Mr Mousavisaid: “The documents and evidence and the contradictory remarks made by the British all indicate that London’s allegation, legally speaking, is not that significant and noteworthy unless they would want to enter into a dangerous game under the influence of the Americans with no end in sight.”
During Friday prayers, Kazem Sedighi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened retribution.