Weapons sent to Ukraine must be replaced or the UK risks the British Army being “left short”, Labour’s shadow defence secretary has said.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, John Healey insisted that Ukraine would have his party’s full support, however warned that if the UK is to continue arming the country there needed to be a commitment that Britain’s own weapons stores are well stocked.
“There is an immediate need for a stockpile strategy to sustain support for Ukraine and re-arm Britain, or our forces could be left short,” he said.
“Ukraine is depleting our military stockpiles and the Government is acting too slowly to replenish them. To do that we need to reboot defence planning, ramp up parts of our defence industry so that we can continue to reinforce Ukraine and re-arm British forces to replenish the weapons and ammunition we are giving to Ukraine in their battle to turn back the Russian invasion.”
Mr Healey added that such a strategy would “gear up domestic industry” to ensure it operated on an “urgent operational footing.
“What that means is you set aside some of the requirements and rigid rules that make procurement in defence often so protracted and too often wasteful,” he said.
‘Kick the defence industry into action’
“We cannot continue to support Ukraine and we cannot replenish the stockpiles for the British forces when it takes the MoD [Ministry of Defence] 287 days to get its act together to sign a contract for new N-law missiles, when the first of those new N-law missiles will not be produced until next year in 2024.
“We’ve got to kick parts of the defence industry into action and move beyond the peacetime inertia and waste that has characterised procurement for too long.”
It comes after a sub-committee into defence procurement was launched to get to the bottom of repeated failings within the MoD.
Mr Healey pointed to plans under Ben Wallace to take the number of Challenger tanks down to 148, from 227. “We’ve just gifted 14 of them to Ukraine so it has raised serious questions about how well-equipped the British Army will be,” he said.
Mr Healey also stressed the importance of securing Britain as “Nato’s leading European nation”, which should include halting any further cuts to British troops.
His comments will be seen as an attempt to draw a line under Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as party leader, as many voters perceived the former Labour leader’s public doubts about Nato as a weakness.
Mr Corbyn described Nato as a “major problem and a major difficulty” and said it should have been disbanded at the end of the Cold War.
‘On track to fulfil Nato obligations’
In February 2022 11 Labour MPs, including Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, were ordered by Sir Keir Starmer to withdraw their signatures from a Stop the War letter which criticised Nato and accused the UK Government of “inflaming tensions and indicating disdain for Russian concerns”.
Mr Healey has already pledged that in his first 100 days in government he would set up a test under which the MoD would report directly to him on major defence projects, to ensure they were “on track to fulfil Nato obligations”.
“Our Labour mission in government will be to ensure Britain is Nato’s leading European nation, recognising that European allies have to take more responsibility for European security after Ukraine,” he said.
Mr Healey added that he was conscious that the next government would “inherit Ukraine and the long-term Russian aggression and threats.
“With the next election there will be a change of government but no change to Britain’s commitment to stand with Ukraine, pursue Putin for his war crimes and confront Russian aggression,” he said.
Mr Healey also addressed recent controversies in the Armed Forces, including revelations that the RAF discriminated against 150 white men in its effort to meet “aspirational diversity targets”.
He said: “No government should be breaking equalities legislation,” as he called on the RAF to “do more to make this a career that a broader range of people look to”.
Asked if he would scrap the diversity targets, Mr Healey insisted they would be kept but in a way that “does not compromise frontline capabilities – and most of all isn’t illegal.”
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