Cameron humiliates first sea lord over Libya in Commons
Article by Nick Hopkins / The Guardian - London Photo by John Stillwell / P.A.
Prime minister tells MPs he summoned Sir Mark Stanhope to No 10 to challenge his claims about difficulties in Libyan campaign
Britain's chief naval officer has been left humiliated after David Cameron said he had summoned him to Downing Street to challenge his claims that the fleet could not continue the Libya campaign indefinitely without affecting other naval operations.
The prime minister told MPs he had met Sir Mark Stanhope, and that the first sea lord now agreed that the navy would be able to "sustain this mission as long as we need to".
The meeting was the culmination of a turbulent 24 hours for Stanhope, who infuriated No 10 by talking about the strains on the navy, which is heavily involved in the Afghanistan mission as well as in Libya.
In a briefing on Monday, Stanhope said ministers would have to "make challenging decisions" once Nato's 90-day extension to the Libya campaign ended.
"Beyond that we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities," he said. "There are different ways of doing this. It's not simply about giving up standing commitments. We will have to rebalance."
He said a ship might have to be diverted from "around home waters".
His remarks provoked uproar at No 10, which regarded them as a PR gift to the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, as well as misrepresenting the state of the service. But serving staff privately rallied to him, and former officers provided public support, saying Stanhope was only stating the obvious, especially now the navy has axed ships and thousands of personnel as part of the government's strategic defence and security review (SDSR).
Cameron's announcement is only likely to cause more rancour, although the Ministry of Defence has informally issued an order to stop officers briefing the press to try to prevent the government being embarrassed further.
At prime minister's questions, Cameron said: "I had a meeting with the first sea lord yesterday and he agreed that we can sustain this mission as long as we need to. We are doing the right thing and I want one simple message to go out from every part of this government, and indeed every part of this House of Commons, and that is that time is on our side. The pressure is building, militarily, diplomatically and politically and time is running out for Gaddafi."
The Press Association cited an anonymous Whitehall source who said of Cameron's meeting with Stanhope: "I think you can assume that there was no coffee or biscuits."
In contrast, military sources said the meeting had been cordial, and that Cameron had accepted that Stanhope had been misquoted by some newspapers which claimed the navy was at breaking point.
Retired rear admiral Chris Parry said the prime minister was perfectly entitled to speak to Stanhope and that he hoped the two had had "a frank exchange of views over exactly what was said and by whom.
"But it was unfortunate that Mr Cameron chose to give his version of the discussion in the way he did at prime minister's questions. I would think that the Royal Navy will, rightly, be rallying around the first sea lord."
Another Whitehall insider said: "The first sea lord is a senior official and he deserves to be treated with respect. He shouldn't be dragged into politics in this way."
The row has overshadowed the navy's genuine difficulty about how it juggles its remaining warships, and which of them will be sent to Libya.
The Guardian undertands the navy's problems centre around the its remaining 19 frigates – four Type 22 destroyers were axed as part of the SDSR.
They are all committed to operations, but have been particularly useful in the Mediterranean because of their sophisticated listening and surveillance equipment.
Comentário de LMC: Um artigo interessante a merecer alguma reflexão: a Royal Navy tem vindo a ser privada de muitas das suas unidades de combate de forma cega desde há anos e mais recentemente ainda por maior empenho político do actual governo conservador de Londres. Navios em excelentes condições são abatidos para poupar dinheiro e tapar buracos criados por políticos sem estatura ou preparação, como está a acontecer um pouco por toda a Europa. A raiz do problema está na falta de nível destas gentes e no que toca aos assuntos dos Mar, na sua ignorância e analfabetismo marítimo e naval. Uma vergonha inqualificável na mesma onda das polémicas lusas à volta da aquisição de submarinos ou alemãs acerca da continuidade de existência do navio-escola GORCH FOCK (este tema especifico fica para outra abordagem e não referi ainda este acto surreal da imprensa e políticos alemães para não dar ideias tristes à nossa gentinha).
Quando vejo ou leio referências ao Primeiro Lord do Almirantado Britânico vem-me sempre ao espírito uma enorme sensação de respeito: lembra-me o mais famosos dos Primeiros Lordes do século XX, Sir Winston Churchill, lembra-me as bandeiras da Royal Navy em Whitehall, Londres, lembra-me o enorme prestígio da Marinha Britânica e do papel desta na defesa do Reino Unido e da Europa.
Não há palavras para comentar o calibre do sr. Cameron e de outros do mesmo nível. Fica o respeito e a possível solidariedade para com a Royal Navy e o seu responsável máximo. Luís Miguel Correia