Defence secretary Gavin Williamson will promise £48m for a new chemical weapons defence centre this afternoon in response to events in Salisbury last week. Williamson will say:
“In the face of intensifying threats, we must prioritise investment in military capabilities. We cannot sit back and let events overtake us.”
Perhaps Williamson needs to be reminded that it was his own party that may have jeopardised those very capabilities.
Just 6 years ago, the Tories pushed through eye watering cuts to the military that slashed £129m directly from the MoD unit with sole responsibility for chemical weapons defence.
The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Force lost 319 personnel in 2011 following defence cuts ordered by David Cameron, according to an MoD newsletter, which states:
“There will be a net reduction of 319 Army posts in the current specialist CBRN Force. The total saving to Defence will be £129 million over 10 years.”
The cuts will produce “an unsettling and challenging period for all of us”, Wing Commander Lee Taylor then commandant of the CBRN Force warned in 2011.
According to the MoD, the CBRN Force (now called Defence CBRN Wing) is responsible for “ALL of Defence’s biological warfare agent detection; light specialist CBRN detection and identification; decontamination; sampling, identification and transportation capabilities.”
So it will have played a key role in the investigation and clean up operation in Salisbury – but with a much reduced capacity.
The revelation will only add to calls in Whitehall and the military establishment that Tory cuts left the UK woefully unprepared for events that unfolded in Salisbury.
Senior Whitehall officials have said “inadequate attention” has been paid to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, the Financial Times reported.
And the UK is unprepared for such an attack, Garth Whitty, a former British army specialist in the disposal of chemical weapons told the FT:
“[The] fundamental requirement to minimise contamination, the number of potential victims and potential terror/hysteria management was not followed”.
Tory cuts putting lives at risk once again…