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Defence secretary denies incompetence as Royal Navy ships crash: ‘Accidents happen’

Defence secretary Grant Shapps has denied that a collision between two Royal Navy ships in the Middle East shows incompetence – but admitted something “clearly” went wrong.

The Royal Navy is investigating after on warships was filmed reversing and crashing into the other at a harbour in Bahrain.

Mr Shapps told Sky News on Sunday that “accidents do happen” as he sought to defend the military over the incident.

“Just as in aviation or many other walks of life sometimes accidents and incidents happen,” he said, when asked if it showed “incompetence”.

The minister added: “We don’t say it’s incompetence when we see an aircraft come down … it’s right to leave the investigators some time to work out exactly what’s gone wrong. Something clearly did and we need to see what it is.”

The Royal Navy said there had been no casualties after HMS Chiddingfold was filmed reversing into fellow minehunter HMS Bangor.

The Chiddingfold is said to remain operational having sustained only minor damage. However, it is unclear for how long Bangor will be out of action.

Grant Shapps defended UK military spending at time of global crises (AP)
Grant Shapps defended UK military spending at time of global crises (AP)

Meanwhile, Mr Shapps also played down growing concerns about the capabilities of the British military – as he appeared to be at odds with his cabinet colleague Penny Mordaunt.

Ms Mordaunt, the Tory Commons leader, warned that the Royal Navy and its partners must keep pace with other nations – or Britain’s interests cannot be secured.

Asked about her warnings, Mr Shapps said: “There are a lot of people with opinions and a lot of people who’ve been in the military and armed forces will often express them.”

The defence secretary also insisted that the size of the British Army will not dip below 73,000, rejecting recent projections in the press that it could eventually sink to 50,000.

“It’s not projected to go down to 50,000. It’s actually, specifically, to 73,000 plus the reserves,” said Mr Shapps.

The defence secretary accepted that the UK’s defence spending was currently below the target of 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). “We are committed to spending more when conditions allow.”

Mr Shapps also said chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s focus on tax cuts – rather than upping defence spending at a time of huge international tension – saying his colleague had been “incredibly generous” with a nearly 10 per cent pay rise for the armed forces.

He also called for EU countries to “step up” and spend more in providing greater funding for Ukraine as it continues to fight the Russian invasion.

“Not just America, but Europe needs to step up and do their part to make sure that Ukraine can continue to defend herself,” he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, saying Britain had “led the way”.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt warned Navy risks falling behind (PA Archive)
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt warned Navy risks falling behind (PA Archive)

Mr Shapps’ grilling on defence spending came as a report in the Sunday Times raised concerned that the Royal Navy was falling behind other nations.

Ms Mordaunt, the cabinet minister who was a Royal Naval Reserve, told the newspaper: “We must not just ask ourselves by how much Russia and China are increasing their fleets, but why.”

The senior Tory, who represents Portsmouth North seat with naval links, later tweeted: “The Royal Navy and its partners must keep pace with the growing capabilities of other nations. If not Britain’s interests cannot be secured.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper would not commit to a Labour government spending 3 per cent of GDP a year on defence if elected.

On Sky News, she said: “Decisions for future spending if Labour wins the election would be for a Labour chancellor... But we have been clear about the importance of our national security. National security is the bedrock on which everything else in the country and everybody’s wellbeing is built.”