Tory revolt over controversial bid to axe 20,000 Army jobs and replace full-time troops with reservists
- Rebel backbenchers are plotting to line up with MPs from Labour and other parties to block Defence Secretary Philip Hammond's plans
- Move, led by Basildon Tory MP John Baron, could threaten a Coalition scheme to remove 20,000 full-time personnel
Rebel Conservative backbenchers are plotting to line up with MPs from Labour and other parties to block plans for a dramatic expansion of the UK’s reserve forces.
The move, led by Basildon Tory MP John Baron, could potentially threaten a Coalition scheme to remove 20,000 full-time personnel and beef up what used to be called the Territorial Army.
But there are already fears that the plan is running into trouble, with new figures showing that the newly-named ‘Army Reserve’ is shrinking rather than growing to a planned size of 30,000 within five years.
Led by Mr Baron, the 17-strong group of rebel Tories will this week try to force the Defence Secretary to order a study into the ‘viability and cost-effectiveness’ of the scheme.
The rebels, who also include former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, will seek the backing of Labour MPs and those from smaller parties in an attempt to inflict a humiliating Commons defeat on Mr Hammond.
Mr Baron said last night: ‘There is growing concern in Parliament about the rising costs and badly missed recruitment targets of the Government’s Army Reserve plans. MPs of all parties want to scrutinise their viability and cost-effectiveness.’
Another rebel Tory said: ‘We can’t use a Commons vote to tell the Ministry of Defence what size the Army should be but we can raise questions about the replacement reservist plan – questions that they have to answer.’
Last night, the Ministry of Defence responded by insisting that the service reforms were on track. A spokesman said: ‘The reforms to the Army were announced over a year ago and are well under way.
‘We are two months into a five-year recruitment campaign that will see the Army Reserve increasing from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018 with improved training and equipment.
‘Over 25,000 reservists have served on the front line in Iraq and Afghanistan. We intend to make increased use of them in future, in line with the way most of our allies operate.’
Labour has so far declined to say how it will vote but sources close to Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker said they were ‘strongly inclined’ to back the Tory rebels.
Mr Hammond’s allies hit back last night, warning Labour against ‘playing politics’ with the future of the Army.
One said: ‘It would be a shame if Labour did this as they have previously agreed to the need to reshape the Army with an increase in the reserves and a reduction in the regulars. After years of neglect under Labour, the reserves are being rebuilt, fully funded and equipped properly.’