British Army 'too small' to take on threats posed by Russia and China, warns Tory MP

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: A submarine is seen during the U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia's meeting of the Australia â United Kingdom â United States (AUKUS) Partnership at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, United States on March, 13, 2023. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A submarine in San Diego, where UK, US and Australian leaders announced the next phase of the Aukus programme on Monday. (Getty Images)

The British Armed Forces are "too small" to deal with the military threat posed by Russia and China, a senior Conservative MP has warned.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, warned that the British Army in particular is not equipped to cope as an escalation of potential global conflicts looms.

His comments came after the government announced £5bn in extra funding for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the next two years as part of its Integrated Review Refresh in response to world volatility.

Ellwood called the refresh "disappointing".

He told Times Radio on Monday evening: "There is nothing there to advance the defence posture of our army, air force or navy, which are simply too small to conduct the current responsibilities and duties they had, let alone what is coming over the hill."

Watch: Foreign secretary introduces defence policy in House of Commons

He said: "The army, especially, has been hollowed out, and is not really fit for purpose with the threats that are coming over the horizon."

In a separate interview with Sky News on Monday, Ellwood said Russia and China "will be breathing a sigh of relief that we've not invested further in our armed forces at this time".

The government's refresh said its top priority was Russia, which posed a "fundamental risk" to European security. It also said China posed an "epoch-defining challenge" through its "increasingly concerning military, financial and diplomatic activity".

In the House of Commons yesterday, Ellwood warned: “We are sliding towards a new Cold War. Threats are increasing but here we are staying on a peacetime budget."

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 07:  Tobias Ellwood MP leaves 10 Downing Street as Ministers gather for the weekly Cabinet meeting on March 7, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has criticised the government's new plan for defence spending. (Getty Images)

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the Commons he was “somewhat confused as to what the government’s position actually is”.

He asked: “So does that now mean that China is a threat or an epoch-defining challenge or a challenging government epoch, or even none of that?”

Foreign secretary James Cleverly replied: “With a country as big, as influential and significant as China, it is impossible to distil it down just to a simple set of words or a phrase.

"He will see through our actions that we do respond robustly to China when it behaves in way that we disagree with.”

Read more: China condemns Aukus submarine plan as threat to peace in the Pacific

The £5bn allocated to the MoD will be used to boost ammunition stocks, modernise the UK's nuclear enterprise and fund the next phase of the Aukus submarine programme.

What is Aukus?

The three nations plan to create a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines to curb China's influence in the Pacific region.

The next phase of the joint programme involving the UK, the US and Australia was announced by the country's leaders, Rishi Sunak, Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese in San Diego on Monday.

The US will provide Australia with three nuclear-powered submarines under the pact. Work will also begin to make a new fleet, which will include Rolls-Royce reactors made in the UK.

Sunak said the Aukus partnership would deliver “one of the most advanced” submarines “the world has ever known”, creating thousands of jobs in British shipyards.

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Australia â United Kingdom â United States (AUKUS) Partnership as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia (L) participate at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, United States on March, 13, 2023. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Albanese, Biden and Sunak announce the Aukus agreement in San Diego on Monday. (Getty Images)

“For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across both the Atlantic and Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open, and prosperous for decades to come,” he said.

The UK’s submarines will mainly be built by BAE Systems in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and Rolls-Royce.

The three nations insisted that the deal did not increase the risk of nuclear proliferation.

The vessels will carry conventional weapons and the nuclear reactors will be sealed shut and not require refuelling in their lifetimes.

But China accused the three countries of fuelling a new arms race.

The Chinese mission to the United Nations said the UK and US were violating the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in transferring weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapons power.

“The nuclear submarine cooperation plan released today by Aukus is a blatant act that constitutes serious nuclear proliferation risks, undermines international non-proliferation system, fuels arms races, and hurts peace and stability in the region,” it said.

Watch: Rishi Sunak says Aukus deal will keep oceans free