The former Defence Secretary has admitted that a current review of the country’s security capabilities was causing unrest in some quarters, including the potential resignation of a defence minister.
Dr Fox, currently the International Trade Secretary, moved today to make reassurances after Conservative backbench MPs threatened a “scrap” over possible cuts.
Tobias Ellwood, the minister responsible for defence personnel and veterans, is believed to have concerns about proposals which could see the Army’s full-time strength reduced by 12,000 to 70,000.
Tobias Ellwood is reportedly prepared to resign over the issue.
He has shared his “deep discomfort” with fellow MPs about a number of cost-saving options faced by the Ministry of Defence.
Liam Fox expects there will be a compromise deal over expected defence cuts
Some 20 fellow Conservative backbenchers have also threatened to rebel if further cuts are made to the number of Royal Marines.
With Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson facing his first set of defence questions in the Commons on Monday, and Mr Ellwood set to be alongside him on the front bench, the issue has the potential to cause trouble for the Government.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former army officer and a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, has warned the party leadership a number of Conservative colleagues are prepared to fight back over the threat of cuts and “feelings are running high” on the issue.
He said: ”Heading back into town for another scrap this week.”
“I am determined that as the party of defence, we as a team will get it right.”
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Speculation about defence cuts has mounted in recent months since the launch of a review led by Mrs May’s national security adviser Mark Sedwill.
As well as rumours about potential cuts to the strength of the Army, there have been concerns about the future of armoured vehicle programmes and suggestions that amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could be axed alongside the loss of 1,000 Royal Marines.
But Dr Fox said: “You have to look at our record. We are one of the very few Nato countries that actually spends 2% of our GDP on defence.
“There’s a review going on at the present time and I think back to my time as secretary of state for defence where we had a similar review ongoing and there’s always a lot of tension, not just between the MoD and the Treasury but also inside the MoD between the different parts of the armed forces and naturally there are concerns about the future shape of that.
Royal Marines on exercise in the UK
“But this is an ongoing discussion. I’m afraid it’s not unknown for some of these tensions to spill over into the public domain.”
He told Sky News’s Sunday with Niall Paterson: “I think we should wait and see exactly what sort of compromise we reach, because that’s what it will be and remember that the UK is the fourth biggest military budget in the world and is one of the very few Nato countries actually fulfilling promises to spend and help protect our partners.”
The Ministry of Defence said no decisions had been made and dismissed reports about the options being considered for cuts as “speculation”.
As unrest grew over the weekend Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, said: “The Conservative parliamentary party has a duty now to unite against further defence cuts to capability.”
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox outside Number 10
Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and a former army officer, said he was proud of Mr Ellwood for “standing up for defence” and warned that cuts were a “false economy”.
A letter sent to Mr Williamson by Tory MPs warned that the loss of Albion and Bulwark would “dangerously limit the array of options” available to the Government in a military or humanitarian crisis.
It said: “We must make it clear to you that as a cohort of MPs representing a large portion of the Government’s vote, we are not prepared to see the degradation of this nation’s amphibious capabilities any further in this capability review that the Government is currently undertaking.”
Mr Williamson’s predecessor Sir Michael Fallon had begun publicly calling for more money for defence before his resignation earlier this month following allegations about improper conduct.
In his first Commons speech since his resignation, Sir Michael indicated he could be a standard bearer for Tory discontent about military funding, telling MPs on Thursday he would “find an early opportunity to speak out on the right level of defence spending to meet the threats that our country faces, and to do so more freely than the constraints of government allowed”.