British defence minister warns against 'draconian' cuts

29th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's defence minister warned Prime Minister David Cameron of a fierce backlash if "draconian" military spending cuts were made while the country was at war, in a letter published Wednesday.

In the private letter leaked to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Liam Fox warned of anger among international partners and Cameron's own Conservative party if the armed forces were hit too hard as they fought in Afghanistan.

"If (the plan to cut spending) continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us," Fox wrote to the prime minister.

It could end up "destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years," said the minister, also a Conservative.

"Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war," he added.

Fox has been ordered to cut his budget by up to 20 percent as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, formed in May, battles to wipe out a record deficit of more than 150 billion pounds (230 billion dollars, 170 billion euros).

Details of the cuts to the defence budget will be unveiled next month after a review of military spending is completed.

But Fox must make the swingeing cuts at a time when British troops are engaged in Afghanistan in some of the fiercest fighting they have faced for decades against a fierce Taliban insurgency.

Some 10,000 British troops are serving in Afghanistan, and 338 have lost their lives since the 2001 invasion.

"The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated," Fox wrote to Cameron.

"It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan."

He wrote the letter to Cameron ahead of a meeting Tuesday of the National Security Council -- a body set up in May to oversee all aspects of British security -- to discuss the military spending cuts.

Fox said he was "appalled" his letter had been leaked to the press and he would "stop at nothing to ensure that the culprit is found."

© 2010 AFP

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