Calls for battalion closure U-turn
MPs have called on the Government to reverse plans to close 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF), in a Commons vote.
Following more than three hours of debate, Tory John Baron forced MPs into the division lobbies to underline the strength of feeling on the backbenches. The motion was passed 57 to three, a majority of 54.
Speaking before a gallery packed with members of the Fusiliers, Mr Baron said he believed the decision to wind up 2nd Battalion was one taken through political calculation rather than military logic.
The Basildon and Billericay MP said while he did not want to see any cuts to the Army, if cuts had to be made recruitment data showed the Scottish regiments to be the least sustainable. When MPs voted in favour of Mr Baron's motion criticising the decision and calling for a U-turn it was applauded by the gallery hours after the Fusiliers had marched to Westminster with a military band.
But Defence Minister Andrew Robathan insisted the decision to close 2RRF had been taken for sound reasons, including a desire to take no more than one battalion from any regiment as the Army is shrunk from 102,000 to 82,000 as part of the Army 2020 strategy.
Mr Robathan said: "We have come to this decision after a great deal of consideration and analysis, and frankly the British Army and the regiments concerned now are looking to get on with the very difficult task of implementing these decisions which, frankly, have not been palatable."
But Mr Baron said he found the Government position to be "utter nonsense". Winding up the debate, he said: "This is a bad decision, not just because we say so but because in response to letters and inquiries to the MoD, and in response to written Parliamentary questions, it is very clear the evidence is there for all to see that 2RRF should not be in this position, it should not be axed, because its recruitment and retention record is excellent.
"I cannot help but come to the conclusion this rather silly rule that there should be regimental losses limited to one battalion is a political fix ahead of the Scottish referendum. This sudden introduction of this rule, which has come out of the blue... is an utter nonsense. It's just by coincidence that it's happened to save one of the Scottish battalions that was earmarked for closure. It is illogical for the Government to maintain them when they cannot help themselves."
Speaking during the earlier debate, Mary Glindon, Labour MP for North Tyneside, said north-east England was a major recruiting ground for the regiment. He said it was feared "the referendum on Scottish independence will see the Government favour Scotland" to help keep it in the union. He said: "I do not want to see Scotland leave the UK, nor do I want to see my region pay any economic or social price to ensure we keep a United Kingdom."
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith said: "It's the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons with the wrong results for the efficiency of the Army and the defence and security of this country."