Royal Marines cuts would undermine security at Faslane, say Defence Committee MPs

Royal Marines storm a beach during a training exercise in Hampshire
Royal Marines from HMNB Clyde on a practice landing assault.

Cuts to the Royal Marines, who have more than 400 personnel based at HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane and Coulport protecting the nation’s nuclear submarine fleet, would significantly undermine the UK’s security, Defence Select Committee MPs have said in a strongly-worded report.

The capability of the Royal Marines must not be sacrificed to the demands of “Treasury bookkeeping”, they said in response to speculation that numbers could be reduced and amphibious capabilities sold off in a Whitehall review.

“Given the disproportionate contribution the Royal Marines make to defence and the sheer range and versatility of their military skills, both they and the country’s security would be significantly undermined,” the report said.

The MPs added: “After more than three and a half centuries of service to the nation, her majesty’s corps of Royal Marines is in danger of being sacrificed to short-term Treasury bookkeeping.”

Marine morale had already been hit and training curtailed, the MPs said, adding it was a “particular embarrassment” that joint exercises with allies had been affected. They also hit out at the reported threat to HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, warning their capabilities could not be replaced by new aircraft carriers or other warships.  Disposing of our amphibious capability would not only put the interests of this country at serious risk, but would also be a drastic waste of tailor-made vessels, expensively refitted for another 15 years’ use, and of a military specialism that has been fostered across all three services,” they said.

The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, another key part of the Royal Navy’s amphibious capability, is already due to leave the service and is a “serious loss”, the report says.

The modernising defence programme should ensure that enough money is available for both the carriers and amphibious capability, the government was told. “The price of one cannot be the destruction of the other,” the committee said.

The committee chairman, Julian Lewis, said: “In January, we were told that the Albion and Bulwark were not due to leave service until 2033 and 2034 respectively. That such irreplaceable ships are in line for deletion 15 years early demonstrates, yet again, the desperate inadequacy of the defence budget.  We must reinstate a target of around 3% of GDP, the percentage which we spent right up to the mid-1990s, long after the ‘peace dividend’ cuts, at the end of the Cold War, had been made.  Gavin Williamson deserves credit for seizing back control of the defence dimension of the NSCR process; but, ultimately, he will fail without extra funding from the Treasury.  Unless he secures this, the Royal Marines will be reduced to a level far below the critical mass needed to sustain them as a high-readiness commando force. “

A MOD spokesperson at Faslane said:  “Protecting the UK will always be our priority and the Royal Marines play a vital role in defending our country.  Just last week we launched the Modernising Defence Programme to strengthen our Armed Forces in the face of intensifying threats.  Our brand new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is central to our efforts to build an Armed Forces fit for the future and is a symbol of our intent to remain a truly Global Britain.”

The 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines Group Royal Marines  is a 440-strong specialist Nuclear Security Unit based at HM Naval Base Clyde.  Its primary mission is to prevent unauthorised access to the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent through the provision of specialist military capability within a complex urban, maritime, industrial environment around the Clyde and throughout the UK.  The Unit is made up of two squadrons (O and R Squadrons) plus Logistics and Command Squadrons.  They work within a multi-agency environment primarily supporting the MOD Police.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond under pressure to come up with finance to save the Faslane-based Royal Marines.

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