Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, following today’s reports that the Military are set to advise David Cameron to u-turn on his carrier strike policy announced in the strategic Defence and Security Review, said:
“This u-turn would be a humiliation for the Prime Minister.
“This is a mess entirely of Ministers’ own making. The Government acted without strategy and in haste. The aircraft carrier programme goes to the heart of our ability to act in the world but is now confused and incoherent.
“The Government’s rushed defence review failed to match ends with means. Ministers recognised the value of carrier strike yet cut it for a decade and based our future policy on equipment which may be unaffordable. Ministers overturned and criticised Labour’s preferred option but it now appears this was the best option.
“This was all so avoidable. There are now very serious issues around cost, capability and timescale which must be resolved. This disarray is causing deep concern and undermining our country’s interests.”
1. David Cameron repeatedly argued that the carrier variant of the JSF was a superior capability, which due to his mismanagement he may now be failing to deliver:
“This is another area where I believe the last Government got it badly wrong… The carriers they ordered were unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France…They ordered the more expensive and less capable version of the joint strike fighter to fly off the carriers…That is the legacy we inherited-an appalling legacy the British people have every right to be angry about, but I say to them today: we will act in the national interest…
“It will take time to rectify these mistakes, but this is how we intend to do so. We will build both carriers, but hold one in extended readiness. We will fit the “cats and traps”-the catapults and arrester gear-to the operational carrier. This will allow our allies to operate from our operational carrier, and it will allow us to buy the carrier version of the joint strike fighter, which is more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons. We will also aim to bring the planes and the carriers in at the same time.”
David Cameron, HC Deb, 19 October 2010, c798
“The last Government committed to carriers that would have been unable to work properly with our closest military allies. It will take time to rectify this error, but we are determined to do so. We will it a catapult to the operational carrier to enable it to fly a version of the Joint Strike Fighter with a longer range and able to carry more weapons. Crucially, that will allow our carrier to operate in tandem with the US and French navies, and for American and French aircraft to operate from our carrier and vice versa.”
David Cameron and Nick Clegg, Strategic Defence and Security Review, 19 October 2010
2. The decision to sell the Harrier fleet left Britain without airpower at sea for a decade, which has proved to be increasingly short-sighted and reckless. The UK needed airpower in Libya, yet the SDSR states:
“We cannot now foresee circumstances in which the UK would require the scale of strike capability previously planned”.
Strategic Defence and Security Review, p.23
3. David Cameron has consistently played politics with the carrier programme, but has been found out. He tried to blame the previous Government for his decision but later it was revealed by the NAO that this was an entirely false claim:
“[The previous Government] signed contracts, so we were left in a situation where even cancelling the second carrier would actually cost more than to build it.”
David Cameron, HC Deb, 19 October 2010
“Compared to the procurement costs of continuing with the existing project and building two carriers, building one carrier would save just £200 million (0.4 per cent) and cancelling both carriers would save £1.2 billion (23 per cent).”
National Audit Office, Carrier Strike, July 2011, p.25