As a Member of Parliament Johnny Mercer should be aware of the need for great care before publicly calling someone a liar. He referred to my comment made in response to the question put to the Prime Minister by Gary Streeter MP this week, in which Theresa May was asked if she would intervene in respect of one of the proposals “being considered by the Royal Navy – to downsize the Amphibious Fleet”. I said that the Conservative Party in government is the cause of this drastic option being considered by the Royal Navy. But the Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View accused me of lying for political gain in a public Tweet saying “That is not true. It is a Royal Navy proposal by [First Sea Lord]. And [Gareth] knows it. But he is trying to get elected in Plymouth, so of course he’ll lie.” Well I am not lying. I stand by what I said. Let me explain why.
The Conservative Party has been in government for over 7 years. In that time they have conducted two Strategic Defence & Security Reviews (SDSR), one in 2010 and another in 2015. They are currently completing a further “mini-SDSR”, partly to account for the impact of BREXIT.
The political and financial situation faced today, by the Royal Navy (and the other Services) is dire, and added to by ever-worsening international security risks. There have been severe budget reductions, and other financial constraints put on the Royal Navy by the Conservatives since 2010. The government has made significant cuts in personnel and increasingly expensive equipment commitments approved by the Ministers. There has been no meaningful progress in identifying the government’s anticipated “efficiency savings”, and now the value of the pound has collapsed because of uncertainties over Brexit. All of this has created a Royal Navy that is simply unsustainable, the responsibility for which lies with its political masters in government.
The First Sea Lord will not willingly choose to eliminate our Amphibious Assault capabilities, which also prove vital in disaster relief and humanitarian aid. During each defence review the Heads of Armed Forces are required to prepare options for consideration by the Ministry of Defence that can meet the financial constraints, and the defence and security objectives of the UK. These are defined by government. The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones has been given no option but to drink the poisoned chalice served up by his government, putting at risk the Royal Navy and Royal Marines that he and the people of Plymouth are so proud of. His voice is not heard for the important reason that he is subordinate to civilian political control by the Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. But the public deserve the truth, and politicians that will seek it out and speak it plainly. Johnny Mercer needs to get his own house in order.
I hope desperately that the potential cutting of our Amphibious capabilities and downsizing of the Royal Marines is not taken by this government, as that would have a very damaging effect on the economy of Plymouth, and seriously degrade vital national security capabilities. I am calling for unity of purpose from our Plymouth MPs and our Councillors to make sure this does not happen. The solution to these problems is political but so is the cause. If our elected MP for Plymouth Moor View is not prepared to accept that the state of the Royal Navy is caused by the decisions of his Conservative Party colleagues, there is probably little he can do to help find a solution.