Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been forced to defend a decision for 11,000 redundancies in the armed forces, insisting that personnel who have recently returned from Afghanistan will not be sacked.
His Labour counterpart, Jim Murphy, summoned Dr Fox to the Commons to make a statement on the redundancies after the RAF became the first service to give detailed plans on Tuesday, saying it was “disgraceful” that some forces serving overseas would be “welcomed home as heroes by the public and sacked by their Government”.
But Dr Fox accused Labour of “sad and cynical opportunism”, adding: “I have repeatedly made it clear that within the armed forces, we have compulsory redundancy schemes because we need to maintain the rank structure and the skills base required.
“When compulsory redundancies are announced, they will not affect those in receipt of the operational allowance, those within six months of deploying or those on post-operational tour leave as I have repeatedly made clear in the House.”
David Cameron has conceded that axing around 5,000 personnel from the army, 3,300 from the Navy and 2,700 from the RAF will be “difficult” for those affected.
Last autumn’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set out plans for reducing the size of the armed forces by 17,000 in total.
Some of that number will be met by not replacing people who were retiring or leaving for other reasons, but defence officials said 11,000 personnel still face being made redundant on a compulsory or voluntary basis.
The RAF announced that 1,020 personnel will go in the first tranche in September, including up to 170 trainee pilots – but no qualified pilots.
Mr Murphy said Tuesday’s written ministerial statement on the redundancies had contained a “fraction” of what was briefed to the media.
“Some will think that that’s because on the day they were discussing a no-fly zone over Libya, the Government didn’t want to defend in the Commons the 2,700 redundancies in the RAF,” he said.