Chancellor Philip Hammond angers defence chiefs by telling PM the Army only needs 50,000 troops — and that’s smaller than Germany’s

PHILIP Hammond has enraged defence chiefs by telling the PM that the Army only needs 50,000 troops.

The Chancellor’s declaration came during a stormy meeting about a fresh round of defence cuts, senior Cabinet sources have revealed.

Top brass are fighting a desperate battle to stop the axe falling on any more of the Army’s current standing strength of 78,000.

Reducing it down to 50,000 would make it its smallest size since the time of the French Revolution before Napoleon’s conquests began 220 years ago.

It would also mean it less than half the size of France’s army, at 111,000 soldiers, smaller than Italy’s 99,000, Spain’s 77,000 and even Germany’s 60,000.

Mr Hammond is accused of making the bombshell argument during a tense face off with former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon in front of Theresa May in No10 recently.

Repeating it to stunned generals, Sir Michael said the Chancellor insisted the far lower number was all the Army needs to carry out its key standing task – to send a division to fight a war.

But senior military figures last night pointed out an Army that small would only be able to sustain any war for around six months.

It would rule out Britain ever being able to mount a large scale invasion and peace-keeping operation the size of Iraq again.

The revelation comes as new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson holds crunch talks with Mr Hammond this week to try to halt the fresh cuts.

Mr Williamson wants the MoD’s budget to go up by £2bn a year to save 1,000 Royal Marines and the royal Navy’s two amphibious landing ships from the chop.

Tory MPs reacted with fury to the news last night.

Campaigning ex-Army officer-turned-MP Johnny Mercer said: “Philip Hammond is deluded if he really believes this.

“We couldn’t even fulfil our NATO commitments with an Army to 50,000, let alone mount a sustained defence of our nation or its dependent territories.

“The Chancellor also appears to have forgotten that reducing the number of our troops by any number would completely breach our election manifesto promise to maintain force levels made only in June.”

An ally of Mr Hammond insisted he is “a supporter of defence”, having also served as defence secretary during the Coalition Government, and would raise the MoD’s budget if he could.

Defence cash is protected and exceeds both the commitment to meet the NATO target of 2% GDP and 0.5% real growth year on year, the ally added.

A source close to Mr Hammond also attacked Mr Williamson, saying: “Gavin’s only been at the MoD for two weeks and he’s already gone native”.

The British Army is supposed to have a standing strength of 82,000 but is currently at 78,000 because of recruitment problems.

It is also significantly under-equipped in comparison to European rivals.

It now has only 400 main battle tanks – less than Germany at 816, Italy’s 1,168, Poland’s 984, Romania’s 725, France’s 484 and Spain’s 476.

Nine countries in the EU also have more artillery pieces than the UK’s current 268, including Greece, Portugal and Finland.” target=”_blank” title=”Click to share on Twitter

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