Britain is ‘not prepared for war’, former defence ministers warn

10:42 14.04.2024 •

Britain is not prepare for war, former defence ministers James Heappey (left) and Ben Wallace (right) have warned.

Former Armed Forces Minister James Heappey who left his role last month said told The Telegraph Government has not ensured plans are in place for how the whole nation would respond if the country was at war.

Mr Heappey also agreed with the view of Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, that Britain is now in a “pre-war age” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But he warned the nations preparation for a conflict is not enough, adding: “War is a whole nation endeavour and, to be frank, in the UK we’re a very long way behind.”

He said: “The post-Cold War peace dividend meant that our strategic resilience could slip down the list of government priorities, adding “defence meant doing things in remote places like Afghanistan or Iraq rather than in Western Europe and the North Atlantic.

“As a result, the rest of Government didn’t need to worry about defence – it was just left to the MoD.”

He added this ignored the fact that, in a war, the whole of Government would have to be involved.

He highlighted how some Cabinet ministers have reserved desks and beds in the UK’s wartime bunker.

Mr Heappey told how former Defence Minister Ben Mr Wallace “pushed hard for a whole of Government exercise to get people down to the bunker so they could see what their working environment in war would be”.

But he claimed Mr Wallace’s call was not responded to by many people, saying: “In the end, rather depressingly, it was just defence ministers, senior military officers and MoD officials that participated.

A senior national security official, who did not want to be identified, also claimed Britain was underprepared.

He said: “We spend more time considering whether we are sufficiently diverse and inclusive than preparing for threats which would potentially destroy the nation.”

Presently the nation spends about two per cent of GDP on defence.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged to include a commitment to move to three per cent in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto.

‘Prepared’ or ‘not prepared’? That is the question!

Oliver Dowden (photo) has insisted that ‘former defence ministers are wrong to say Britain is not prepared for war’.

Mr Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the Government was “making good progress against rising threats” in response to warnings from James Heappey and Ben Wallace that provisions for the outbreak of conflict were inadequate.

Asked about their remarks, Mr Dowden told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I think they’re wrong. They’re absolutely right [that] we’re in a more hostile situation than we’ve been in certainly since the end of the Cold War, possibly even before that.

“And we’ve seen threats rise across a range of vectors, not just conventional Armed Forces but cyber security, economic security, where the Prime Minister has established an economic security committee of the National Security Council, which I chair.

“We are taking action across the board, we’ve set up the National Cyber Security Centre in respect of cyber. I now take dozens of decisions daily about investment to protect our economic security.”

“We need to be taking action across those areas,” he said. “Of course, there’s always more to do, but I believe we are making good progress against rising threats.”

Tobias Ellwood, a third former defence minister, told Camilla Tominey on GB News that there was “a 1937 feel to our world now”, urging Britain to conduct a comprehensive defence review and brace itself for “some very difficult years ahead” .

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, last week urged Nato allies to accept that we are now in “a pre-war world” and warned that those who did not spend two per cent of GDP on defence spending were playing “Russian roulette” with the future of the West.

Lord Sedwill, the head of the civil service under Theresa May and Boris Johnson, told Ms Kuenssberg the world faced its “most dangerous period since the end of the Cold War”.

“I think what people are finding overwhelming is not just that but the sheer complexity of the international environment,” he said. “We have the war in Ukraine, the crisis in Gaza, much less reported conflicts all across sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel, tensions elsewhere, risks around Taiwan, other issues in the Middle East…

“To handle all of that, to deal with climate change, to regulate AI, to deal with all of these other issues that we’re facing, we need the international community to be able to cooperate but we’re at a time of the most acute geopolitical tensions.”

The UK currently spends 2.27 per cent of GDP on defence but pleas for extra cash from ministers and Tory MPs fell on deaf ears at the Budget last month.

…Just Shakespearean passions!


read more in our Telegram-channel