LONDON — U.K. lawmakers clashed with Defense Secretary Grant Shapps this week over cuts to next year’s core defense spending, dismissing his counter-argument that the budget would actually rise as political gamesmanship.

The parliamentary Defence Committee convened the March 26 session roughly a month after the government released its 2024-2025 budget plan, showing a drop in defense funding for the next fiscal year.

Shapps said there was “confusion” in the documents published by the Treasury because they fail to account for £2.5 billion ($3.2 billion) pledged in supplementaries for Ukraine aid and £280 million for ammunition stockpiles.

“Once you add those two things in, which are then comparable to the outturn of last year with the outturn of this year, you get a 1.8 percent real-terms increase of £1.5 billion,” he said. Because of these omissions, Shapps said, “you’re not comparing apples with apples but apples with oranges.”

According to the government’s Spring budget 2024, also known as the Red Book, the operating budget allocated to the Ministry of Defence is going down by £2.2 billion from £35 billion in 2023-24 to £32.8 billion in 2024-25.

In terms of capital spending – the other large chunk that makes up the British defense budget – the amount dips from £19.2 billion in 2023-24 to £18.9 billion in 2024-25.

Mark Francois, member of the defense committee, added up these losses, saying it was a combined £2.5 billion drop in defense spending for next year.

While Francois acknowledged the £2.5 billion promised to Ukraine, he said these funds are not part of the U.K. defense budget.

He went on to describe Shapps’ numbers as “smoke and mirrors,” accusing him of “suffering a massive defeat at the hands of the Treasury.”

“You’ve had your budget cut by £2.5 billion and you’re now trying to play smoke and mirrors with the Ukrainian money to pretend your budget hasn’t been cut when it’s been slashed,” Francois said.

Jeremy Quin, chair of the Defence Committee, joined Francois in his assessment that the defense budget was recording a drop in real terms.

Meanwhile, Shapps stood by his argument, saying the overall defense budget was up £1.4 billion to £55.6 billion with the Ukraine funding included.

The line of questioning came off the back of a defense committee report published on Feb. 4, which found the Ministry of Defense is unready for a “high-intensity” war.

The report cited capability shortfalls, stockpile shortages and a net loss in personnel, which all combined would delay Britain’s combat readiness.

A review by the Public Accounts Committee, released March 8, found the Ministry’s alleged failure to adequately manage stocks of spares and supplies puts military personnel at risk.

Earlier this year, during a Jan. 15 speech at Lancaster House, Shapps said given the “threats” posed by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Houthi rebels in Yemen, the world is “moving from a post-war to a pre-war world.”

Thibault Spirlet is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News. Thibault previously covered the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars at Business Insider. He also has experience reporting on the European Union and U.K. politics.

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