Saturday 17 February 2007

Turning into Belgium

The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band has, according to The BBC, claimed that Britain faces a choice between remaining as a first division sea-going nation or "turning into Belgium".

This was at a press briefing where he told the assembled journalists that his price tag for avoiding this horrible fate was "another £1bn" to safeguard future capabilities - and the delivery of extra two aircraft carriers.

"The navy is a very special asset, and if you want to use it, it doesn't come for nothing," he is said to have told the journalists, adding, "We're at a scale now that requires a certain amount of investment to maintain … You can't do deterrence unless you are a really professional outfit."

He summarised his position to journalists: "Give me two carriers and just less than a billion and I will be off your back, a happy boy".

No sooner was the news out, however, than Sir Jonathan was backtracking faster than a French tank in reverse. Up on the MoD website went a statement declaring:

I do not think, and have not said, that the Royal Navy needs a £1bn-a-year extra to do its job or to keep ships at sea. Today's Royal Navy is funded to do what is asked of it – not least thanks to a current investment programme of £14bn, and the delivery of 28 new ships in the last decade alone.
And this is a day after the House of Commons Defence Select Committee warned that the Royal Navy could be left without working aircraft carriers because of continuing delays and doubts surrounding the MoD's management of the £3.6 billion project to buy new vessels.

The Scotsman, being the only newspaper to carry the item, cited the Committee as saying that the whole future of the navy as a fighting force was uncertain and hung on decisions ministers will take in the next few months. The biggest of those concerned the formal placing of the order to build two new aircraft carriers, which was by no means assured.

Anyhow, the next day, Sir Jonathan up and socks it to 'em, and then backs off immediately. You really have to admire the intestinal fortitude of the chap, don't you.