The new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, was put on notice in the Commons that he will face a substantial Tory revolt if a national security review leads to major cuts in the armed services.
Williamson, making his Commons debut in his new job, faced Conservative backbenchers who pressed him to stand up to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, over a threatened squeeze on the MoD budget.
The threatened rebellion is over a Cabinet Office review of the UK’s national security, originally scheduled to report in December but now delayed until January or February. The review includes the intelligence services MI5, MI6 and the surveillance agency GCHQ but the MoD, with by far the biggest budget, £36bn, is facing the brunt of proposed cuts.
One of the strongest warnings to Williamson came from Conservative MP James Gray, who said the Cabinet Office needed to be told the review should not be some kind of camouflage to cut the services.
“Will he speak to the chancellor of the exchequer to make sure he digs deep into his pockets to produce the money we need? Above all, will he speak to the chief whip to remind him that if he does not do so, he will face a very substantial rebellion?” Gray said.
British defence reviews have followed a predictable pattern down the decades: proposed defence cuts prompt an outcry from Conservative backbenchers, backed by retired generals and admirals.