After Cabinet tensions on the matter, David Cameron was trying to reassure those worried about further defence cuts while visiting Algeria. The Telegraph reports a senior government source saying the Prime Minister will honour his pledge to increase defence spending from 2015. The source told the newspaper:
‘The Prime Minister does not resile from anything he has said about defence.’
But rather less reassuringly, Philip Hammond decided to clarify that reassurance this morning. The Defence Secretary told Sky News that the PM was only referring to the equipment budget, and that he would continue to make the argument for maintaining the ‘resources that we need to deliver Future Force 2020′:
‘I think what the Prime Minister was referring to was the pledge that was made – which Treasury ministers have repeated – that the equipment plan, the part of the defence budget which funds equipment, will rise by 1 per cent a year in real terms after 2015. And the Treasury has re-confirmed that commitment since the announcements in the Autumn Statement.’
He then added that when it comes to negotiations for the 2015/16 spending review, ‘I will be arguing the case in that spending review to maintain the resources that we need to deliver Future Force 2020′.
The PM’s reiteration of his pledge was partly designed to placate military chiefs worried that another round of cuts would hit the special forces. But if Hammond’s clarification is right, though equipment spending is important, that fear about long-term damage to the SAS will continue to grow.