London, Jan 21 (IANS) British Prime Minister David Cameron has given an “absolute guarantee” against cutting the size of the country’s army, following speculation that the government was mulling a force of just 60,000, media reported Wednesday.
The Guardian reported that under current plans, the army would shrink to 82,000 personnel by 2020, with the number of reserves due to rise to 30,000 if they could be recruited.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Cameron said he could reassure the members of parliament (MPs) that a further reduction in the number of soldiers was “absolutely not on the table”.
His pledge relates to the size of the regular army, which means that the ministry of defence would have to concentrate demands for budget cuts on the air force, navy, equipment, civilian staff, and other areas of expenditure.
Speculation that Cameron could try to shrink the army further was raised by the Liberal Democrat former defence minister Nick Harvey, who said that paper exercises in the ministry of defence were being undertaken to look at further cuts to troop numbers due to the forthcoming “financial crunch”.
The Conservative former defence minister Gerald Howarth told Cameron: “May I ask you to reassure me that press reports this morning that there are discussions about reducing the regular army from the already low level of 82,000 to 60,000 are wholly unfounded and so long as you remain prime minister no such cuts will be contemplated?”
Cameron said he could “absolutely give that assurance” in light of the claims by Harvey.
“These ideas are absolutely not on the table and as long as I am prime minister, the regular army will stay at it current size,” he said.
However, he has repeatedly declined to promise that the British defence spending would be maintained at 2% of the GDP — the level required by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Replying to another question, the prime minister only said that Britain was one of the few NATO allies that were achieving the target.