By Julian Nettlefold, Editor BATTLESPACE
12 Jan 07. News from the BBC that Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to defend the UK’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in a speech in Plymouth could portend two issues, one that Plymouth is soon to become the major base for Out of Area Operations moving some capability from Portsmouth, of which more later, and that he is justifying his policies of waging overseas operations. But, perhaps this speech will signal the huge sea change witnessed last week by the news, since denied that the Royal Navy is facing drastic fleet reductions.
He is to say the UK must decide whether it wants to continue to have a major influence on world matters after he leaves office.
The prime minister is expected to defend the policy of intervention, a hallmark of his time in power.
The decision to make this statement on the future of the British Armed Forces will set the scene for the Brown Administration which is expected to concentrate on smaller Peace Keeping Operations in Africa ion particular. This will put a question mark over the size of the fleet and the CVF project in particular.
It comes a day after President George Bush announced the US was sending more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq.
Mr Blair said in a TV interview with West Country ITV that if Britain wanted a leading presence on the world stage it would mean sending troops into dangerous places far away.
This is a move which could be unpopular back at home, BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said.
Mr Blair is not expected to make any announcement about the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq, but has said he hopes to make a statement in the coming months.
Most of the UK troops in Iraq are based around the southern city of Basra. The UK has said it wants to pull its soldiers out of the area once Iraqi security forces are strong enough. Mr Blair denied the pull-out was at odds with US plans to boost troop numbers by more than 20,000 in the Baghdad area. He has said the security situation in Baghdad was vastly different to that in Basra.
Last week we reported the Scotsman story that questions about the size and structure of the Royal Navy are threatening to inflict an early headache on Gordon Brown shortly after his expected appointment as prime minister this summer. Its budget under severe pressure, the navy was yesterday reported to be preparing to mothball another six warships, effectively halving the size of Britain’s fighting fleet. The Ministry of Defence did not deny the report that the type 22 frigates and 42 destroyers are being placed in a state of “reduced readiness”, a condition one navy source described as “operational death”. The Conservatives said the government had been “irresponsible” in its treatment of the armed forces, predicting that the military would face a further squeeze in Mr Brown’s comprehensive spending review this summer. Mr Brown, the Chancellor, is all but certain to succeed the retiring Tony Blair, and could be installed in Downing Street as Prime Minister as early as June. At least two significant and potentially divisive naval decisions are likely to end up in his in-tray. The first concerns the number and structure of Britain’s main naval bases – Faslane, Portsmouth and Devonport – which are all under review.
While a report is due in the spring, MoD insiders expect it to be postponed
until after May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament and English councils.
The review might recommend the closure or shrinking of one or all of the bases to reflect the needs of a smaller fleet. Faslane, on the Clyde, is the home of Britain’s military submarines and the government said last year it would replace the current generation of nuclear-armed subs, which weighs heavily in Faslane’s favour. But being seen to spare a Scottish base at the expense of English ones might prove tric