Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
MP John Baron slams army cuts in Parliament
A SOUTH Essex MP who used to be in the army has slammed the impending cuts in an impassioned speech in the House of Commons.
He spoke out as he led a debate calling for a u-turn on plans to scrap 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF).
Five infantry battalions are due to go under the Army 2020 strategy, which will see regular Army numbers cut from 102,000 to 82,000.
Mr Baron, a former captain in the Fusiliers, said the Government has declined to shut Scottish battalions with much worse recruiting records - in a flawed bid to promote the benefits of the United Kingdom to Scottish voters.
Wearing the Fusiliers' regimental tie, addressed the Commons with scores of veterans looking on from the public gallery.
Around 400 members of the Fusiliers marched to Westminster ahead of the debate to the tune of a military band and wearing berets with distinctive red and white hackles on Thursday.
He said: "The Government is wrong. Military logic and not political calculation should determine Army cuts.
"I'm a firm believer in the Union but this is not the way to achieve it. In my view, the Government's culpability is demonstrated by its reluctance to justify its decision. The evidence has been damning."
Mr Baron won applause from the observers following his speech - highly unusual in the Commons but audible through the glass screen shielding the chamber from the public benches.
Mr Baron told MPs he had investigated the decisions of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) through Parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests.
He said the results clearly demonstrated 2RRF had both a strong recruitment record and encouraging demographics in its home areas.
This was not the case for regiments in Scotland, Mr Baron said, which have struggled to maintain force numbers.
The Conservative MP said he was not in favour of any cuts to the Army but that if changes to force structure do need to be made they had to be made for sound military reasons in a dangerous world.
He added: "I do have severe doubts about the extent of the cuts to the Army and the armed forces generally.
"The first duty of Government is national security, we must never forget that. The Foreign Secretary has reminded us the range of threats and dangers is, if anything, increasing.
"Many countries not necessarily friendly to the west are increasing their defence spending and much as I respect the Territorial Army, having been on operations with them, I question the extent to which we are asking the TA to step up to the plate, to plug the gap left by the loss of regular battalions.
"Yet, I'm sad to say this coalition Government is continuing to cut defence spending, which has halved in the last 20 years and it continues to go down."