Prime Minister Boris Johnson has praised the British Armed Forces as ‘the best in the world’ as he vowed to increase funding, increase numbers of military personnel and bring in legislation to protect military veterans from ‘unfair’ prosecution over historical allegations.
Mr Johnson, speaking as he attended The Sun Military Awards in central London tonight, confirmed his commitment to passing legislation that would make sure no one who served in the Armed Forces faced prosecution for historic cases, such military actions carried out during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where no new evidence had been provided.
Mr Johnson addressed the audience at the awards, known as the Millies, earlier this evening at Banqueting House in Whitehall.
Mr Johnson joined an audience of dignitaries and celebrities - including stars from TV, sports, music and the media - and of course members of Britain's Armed Forces at The Sun Military Awards which pays tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force and which was hosted by television presenter Lorraine Kelly.
Awards were awarded to ten winners in a list of nominees in categories that included Hero At Home – Individual, Hero At Home – Unit, Hero Overseas – Individual, Hero Overseas – Unit, Best Reservist, Inspiring Others, Overcoming Adversity, Innovation Award, Support To The Armed Forces and a Judges’ Award – Given to any individual, group or unit to honour exceptional service.
In an interview with Forces News, in which Mr Johnson was asked what assurances he could give to members of the military, that the armed services were something that he values and that he is going to protect, fund properly and support, he said: “We’re putting huge sums into the armed services.
“They’ve had a big increase in their funding, £2.6 billion over the rate of inflation.
“You can see what we are doing investing in new frigates, expanding our Navy, making sure that our armed services get the homes that they need.”
Speaking of his commitment to ending prosecutions over historical allegations, he said: “Another thing that I mentioned tonight that I think is very, very important and shows our commitment to our armed services, it’s a very sensitive issue, but we’re going to bring in legislation to protect the veterans of this country who’ve served our country faithfully and well, from unfair prosecutions from things that allegedly happened many years ago when there’s no new evidence being brought before the courts.
“I think it’s very important that we protect our armed services in that way.”
Mr Johnson, asked if he could make a promise not to reduce personnel numbers across the Armed Forces under his stewardship, said: “We aren’t. We’re increasing funding. We’re increasing personnel numbers.
“We want to see a strong, robust, global Britain.
“My ambition is for a UK that is strong at home and expresses our values, all the things we want to deliver, abroad.
“The UK armed services are quite incredible. Historically, let’s be in no doubt, they were the most fearsome armed services in the world and they still have an incredible reputation.
“As I said before, 163 of 190-odd countries in the UN were invaded or conquered by the British Armed Forces.
“This is an amazing country. They are still the best in the world. They are our best export."
Mr Johnson added:
“You talk to Prime Ministers around the world, they say the one thing that people want to see - when there’s difficulties, when they’ve got problems, when you’ve got piracy, when you’ve got people smuggling, when you’re tackling an illegal wildlife trade – the British Armed Forces.”
Mr Johnson has previously promised “the biggest security, defence and foreign policy review since the end of the Cold War,” and has also promised to invest in new areas, including cyber and space.
His Government is embarking on a review of national security to be launched this month in an analysis of the British military that last took place in 2015.
However, there have been reported disagreements over the scope of the defence review which it is hoped will shape the priorities of the country until 2030.
Tensions are said to have risen over the direction the defence review has been taking.
Some military leaders such as General Sir Nick Carter, are said by Whitehall insiders to favour a traditional approach to the review, focussing more on conventional Armed Forces while Mr Johnson’s chief of staff Dominic Cummings, who is leading the review, is understood to back a more radical shake-up.
The defence review is seen by many in the defence arena as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a decisive new direction for Britain’s Armed Forces.
Mr Cummings is understood to back a focus on an integrated foreign policy, security and defence review that would extend from the Armed Forces to the intelligence services, counter-terrorism, serious organised crime, diplomacy and development and an overhaul of defence procurement.
Mr Cummings, who is thought to have doubts over the Royal Navy’s two new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers that cost in the region of £6.2 billion, has branded previous major military purchases "a farce".
The aide, the brains behind the Vote Leave campaign and a Whitehall critic, has used a personal blog in March last year to accuse the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of squandering "billions of pounds" on warships that were no longer suitable for battle.
The Conservative Party manifesto has talked up defence spending, pledging to meet NATO's target of spending 2% of GDP on defence in order to keep its members safe.
Mr Johnson has earlier said he would go further than that, by increasing the defence budget by "at least 0.5% above inflation every year".
The manifesto also mentioned the need to "adapt to new threats" - a concern raised by Mr Cummings in his personal blogs - by investing in cyber security and setting up the UK's first Space Command.
Mr Cummings last year said more money needed to be spent on computing, robotic and artificial intelligence, and argued that drones should be given a more central role in defence.
The comments have reinforced suggestions that, under Mr Johnson and his right-hand man Mr Cummings, there will be a substantial overhaul of Whitehall in a bid to inject fresh investment into northern areas that elected Tory MPs, many of them for the first time, at the General Election.