We reported this morning that Tory MPs are trying to make sure that the MoD doesn’t suffer further cuts at this year’s spending review. Mark Pritchard, a Tory backbencher, summed up the feeling of many of his colleagues when he told us:
Colleagues have, to date, reluctantly backed reductions in the MoD budget. However, any additional cuts to the defence, beyond those already agreed, will create a substantial political backlash. In short, the MoD budget has been cut enough, and the Treasury needs to look elsewhere for savings.
Pritchard and his colleagues should be on safe ground: the prime minister himself said that the defence settlement signed in 2010 would require “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”.
Since then however, the economic situation has deteriorated, necessitating more cuts to reach the target of eliminating the current structural deficit. This summer, departments are braced for up to £10bn of extra cuts.
To reach that £10bn, departments including the business department, the Home Office, the justice department and the MoD are likely to come under the knife. If the chancellor exempts the MoD, as his colleagues are urging him to, it will require even more stringent cuts to some other very sensitive departments.
Number 10 is keen to leave its options open. That’s why, when asked repeatedly by journalists this morning whether the prime minister stood by his commitment to real-terms growth in the MoD budget post-2015, his spokesperson’s answer was deliberately evasive:
We still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world… The MoD budget has been set and that remains the position.
In saying nothing at all, the answer is revealing.