PRIME Minister David Cameron has vowed to keep the army at its current level of 82,000 regulars amid fears that he plans to slash numbers to 60,000.
However, during exchanges in Prime Minister’s questions Mr Cameron would only commit to defending the equipment budget for the Ministry of Defence and refused to rule out spending less than the Nato recommended amount of two per cent on defence.
Former coalition minister Sir Nick Harvey raised the prospect of army numbers being cut by more than a quarter to 60,000 during the Trident debate when he said paper exercises were going on to look at further cuts to troop numbers due to the forthcoming “financial crunch”.
The Government’s existing Army 2020 plans envisage a shrunken regular force of 82,000 with the number of reservists rising to 30,000.
But Mr Cameron said he could reassure MPs that plans for further reductions - above and beyond that - were “absolutely not on the table”.
Tory former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth asked during Prime Minister’s Questions: “May I ask you to reassure me that press reports this morning that there are discussions about reducing the regular army from the already low level of 82,000 to 60,000 are wholly unfounded?
“And so long as you remain Prime Minister no such cuts will be contemplated?”
The Conservative leader replied: “I can absolutely give you that assurance. These ideas are absolutely not on the table and as long as I am Prime Minister, the regular army will stay at it current size.”
But Mr Cameron refused to confirm that UK defence spending would be maintained at two per cent of GDP.
Asked the question later in the exchanges by Democratic Unionist Nigel Dodds, he replied that the UK was one of the few Nato allies that was achieving the target.