Qioptiq logo Raytheon Global MilSatCom

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




A few mixed views this morning including a reminder to those who hold the importance of the UK maintaining strong defence capability as a priority of government, of what to expect should Liz Truss MP find her way to becoming the next Chancellor of the Exchequer!  

This is more usually a time of year when there are plenty of government announcements being mad ahead of the summer recess. Not this year though and it seems that we are left only to contemplate not only on which of Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will in a couple of weeks’ succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister but also the prospect that little if any good government will occur between now and October.

Of course, we will by then have had not only a new Prime Minister but also a major Cabinet reshuffle. A new Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Defence amongst many others no doubt, all of whom will need time to get to grips with their departments and bring something to their new roles. The prospect of so many changes in Cabinet and Government fills me with horror but then, I have been down this road before and will no doubt do so again afore very long.

Whilst I am not particularly sorry to see a change of Prime Minister, it seems that I have little choice but to accept the decision that Tory Party members will or maybe, have already made in respect of who moves in to replace Mrs. May. Uppermost in the mind of whichever of the two candidates wins the contest my hope is that they put the creation of stability first and foremost of their actions. I am taking it for granted that we will leave the EU and as a good European I would say to the next incumbent of No 10 forget notions about renegotiation of Mrs. May’s withdrawal deal. With France and Germany dictating all the EU terms, Brussels is not about to be moved. As to the prospect of holding a second referendum – this from someone who I will not name dropped through my emails last week – “I am voting to leave next time, having voted remain last time. We negotiated badly and Brussels behaved like the ….. they are”. Sadly, I cannot ignore the fact that there are many others who share a very similar view now to the one above!

The choice made by the next Prime Minister for the posts of Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Defence are clearly the one’s that interest me most. If it were me and assuming Mr. Johnson wins the leadership contest then I would probably ask Mr. Hunt to stay on in the Foreign Secretary role. However, I could also live with the suggestion that Michael Fallon is brought back into the Cabinet in this role – one that he would be very well suited.

As to the choice of Chancellor of the Exchequer? Annoy me as he often has, my choice would be to ask Mr. Hammond to stay on and see us through the difficult post Brexit period. I note mutterings that Liz Truss is seen by some as a possible candidate for the Chancellor of the Exchequer role. If that is so, heaven help defence because as I was reminded this morning, it was Liz Truss who back in 2009 before she became an MP in 2010 and when still at her previous job as deputy director of ‘Reform’ who in April 2009 published a joint paper called ‘Back to Black’ in which she set out how to cut public spending by £30 billion. For Defence all that I can say is that the Reform paper made very bad reading.

On Page 23 of that rather sad document Liz Truss made some very specific recommendations in respect of defence spending which raised many eyebrows. Long forgotten by most defence commentators, I am repeating some of the specific recommendation she made in 2009 and do so because knowledge and experience tells me that she is unlikely to have changed her view on defence: 

“The UK should extricate itself from Tranche 3 of the Eurofighter combat jet. It has been estimated that this will cost £3 billion. Planned system upgrades and modernisation of the Eurofighter programme – that unofficial sources have estimated could cost up to an additional £5 billion – should also be suspended. This could deliver a combined 2010-11 saving of £888 million. Scrapping the programme to build new aircraft carriers – at a total ten-year cost of £3.9 billion could deliver a 2010-11 saving of £390 million. Cutting the Nimrud MRA4 programme – although it is now well advanced – would allow annual operational cost savings of £700 million to be made (1,700 uniformed and 200 civilian posts). The MoD is also under pressure from the Defence Select Committee to scrap the A400M transport aircraft programme because it may “be so delayed that abandonment would be preferable. This could deliver 2010-11 savings of £689 million. If necessary, some of these programmes could be replaced with relevant off-the-shelf purchases at a lower cost. This would come at a cost to the Exchequer which would reduce the savings identified above. The future of Trident should also be considered. The estimated cost to the taxpayer will be between £15 and £20 billion. These costs will fall principally between 2012 and 2027.”

Those of us that understand the importance of Britain having strong defence, who care and who include Jeremy Hunt will rightly hope that Liz Truss will be kept as far away from the Treasury as possible. Indeed, allow me to go one stage further and say, out of Government.

If of course the next PM chooses the current Home Secretary Sajid Javid. MP for Bromsgrove as the next Chancellor of the Exchequer then so be it. Mine not to reason why nor to provide any reason why not.

And then there is the choice of the next Secretary of State for Defence. I am assuming that if Boris Johnson wins the leadership contest the current incumbent, Penny Mordaunt will, because she supported Jeremy Hunt, likely be sacked. Mr. Johnson may well attempt to give the post back to her predecessor Gavin Williamson who was sacked by Mrs May on the basis of belief that he was responsible for leaking reports of a Cabinet Meeting to the press. From a security position I believe that institutions within government would do their level best to stop such an appointment being made. Who would I choose? My choice would be between Philip Dunne, the MP for Bromsgrove or, wait for it, Jeremy Hunt! Yes, I know I am dreaming but there we are.

Although Commentary may well appear again tomorrow it will then be absent from your emails until next week. The Chief of the Air Staff’s Air and Space Power Conference, organised by the RAF Centre for Air and Space Power Studies in co-operation with the Air and Space Power Association takes place in London on Wednesday and Thursday this week and this is followed on Friday through Sunday by the Royal; International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire and which I will, as usual, be in attendance on all three days.

A final mention of the weekend just past when, apart from the pleasure of watching on TV on Sunday one of the finest and closest Wimbledon finals ever and that was fought out over five sets over four hours – note that just the first set took longer to complete than the whole of the Ladies final the previous day – I had also had the pleasure of attending on Saturday, as a guest of Ben Griffiths and Flying Legends, a quite wonderful day at the Imperial War Museum Duxford Air Show. Never in my life have I seen so many Spitfire aircraft in one place and flying. A brilliant and most enjoyable day this certainly was. To see so many beautifully restored military aircraft flying was an absolute delight and in particular three Douglas Dakota aircraft flying in formation was superb not to mention of course, a quite brilliant display by the RAF Red Arrows.

CHW (London – 15th July 2019)             

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



Back to article list