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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Cash squeeze threatens UK military presence in Arabian Gulf

The UK government said it was seeking to bolster its naval presence in the region

Britain's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth pictured on June 12, 2018, travelled to Oman as the UK increases its naval force in the region. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Britain's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth pictured on June 12, 2018, travelled to Oman as the UK increases its naval force in the region. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The British government’s pledge to bolster its naval strength in the Gulf is threatened by cash cuts, lawmakers said on Monday.

The UK wants to increase its military presence in the region where its minesweepers are highly valued by its Middle East allies, according to a report by MPs on the state of funding for the country’s armed forces.

Gavin Williamson, the UK’s defence secretary, said last month that the Royal Navy would send destroyers to the Gulf from 2019 to ensure that the UK was an “enduring presence” in the region.

The promises, however, are threatened by budget cuts in the military being considered as part of a broader squeeze of public finances, according to a cross-party group of MPs on the defence select committee.

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“The Government has signalled an intention to establish a more substantial presence ‘East of Suez’,” said the report.

“The growing ambition which the UK has outside of the Euro-Atlantic area will be a largely maritime-led endeavour.

“This needs to be backed up with sufficient resources to make a strategically significant contribution to our allies in the region.

“Without this, the Royal Navy may struggle to meet these new commitments in addition to an already onerous series of standing tasks.”

Britain re-established a naval base in Bahrain earlier this year, its first permanent military base built in the region since 1971. The UK also struck a deal last year to improve port access to its military ships in Oman.

Mr Williamson said last month that the moves signal that “we’re investing heavily in the Middle East at a time of unprecedented uncertainty”.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment in detail before it has completed a review of military spending.

“The UK maintains the biggest defence budget in Europe and we have been clear we will continue to exceed NATO’s two per cent spending target.”