Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has warned he will resist further cuts to the armed forces in Chancellor George Osborne's forthcoming spending review. He said Cabinet ministers believed the greatest burden of cuts should fall on the welfare budget.
The Defence Secretary came out fighting for his department today, provoking open splits in the coalition over further spending cuts. Philip Hammond warned the capability of the armed forces is at risk and cuts to welfare would be more appropriate.
ITV News' political correspondent Romilly Weeks reports:
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell has welcomed Philip Hammond's views on cuts to defence:
At last a defence secretary has publicly recognised that the long-running drip drip reduction in defence spending has materially eroded capability and seriously restricted the military options open to a British prime minister.
The truth is that our publicly stated ambitions now significantly exceed our capacity.
Philip Hammond has told the BBC that he will not be able to make further cuts "without eroding military capability."
We won't be able to make further cuts without eroding military capability.
Of course I understand the Chancellor's challenge. He has to find additional savings in order to consolidate the public finances as we have to do but we need to look broadly across government at how we are going to do that, not just narrowly at a few departments.
The leader of a prominent defence and security think thank has said that the approach to defence cuts is one of risk analysis.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Professor Michael Clarke, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, said:
It's all a matter of risk analysis. If you don't think that the Armed Forces will be doing as much in the next five to eight years once Afghanistan is in the rear-view mirror then you might take that risk.
The Armed Forces have been continuously in operation since 1991 when the Cold War came to an end so it would be a bit optimistic to think that that process which has gone on now for over 20 years would suddenly stop once we withdraw from Afghanistan.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said there was a "body of opinion within Cabinet who believes that we have to look at the welfare budget again", and that "we should be seeing welfare spending falling" as a result of rising employment levels.
He said the "first priority" for the Government should be "defending the country and maintaining law and order" and that further defence cuts were not possible while meeting stated security objectives.
I shall go into the spending review fighting the case for the defence budget on the basis that we have made very large cuts to defence, we've done that with the collaboration and co-operation of the military.
Any further reduction in the defence budget would fall on the level of activity that we were able to carry out - the idea that expensively bought equipment may not be able to be used, expensively employed troops may not be able to be exercised and trained as regularly as they need to be.
I am not going into the spending review offering any further reductions in personnel.