Boulmer re-think urged by top Tory

The proposed downgrading of a North-East RAF base needs to be reconsidered, according to shadow defence secretary Liam Fox.

The proposed downgrading of a North-East RAF base needs to be reconsidered, according to shadow defence secretary Liam Fox.

The Conservative spokesman, on a visit to the North-East, said decisions were being taken on Britain's military without reference to the country's strategic needs.

A review of foreign and defence requirements could conclude that there is no need to shift staff from RAF Boulmer in Northumberland to Lincolnshire, he said.

Serious concerns have been raised on the impact on the local economy if the transfer goes ahead.

Dr Fox said: "We need to look at our foreign policy priorities first and then determine what shape our defence forces need to have to both protect our immediate interests and then look at our strategic interests abroad.

"It seems to me that cuts are being made that are largely Treasury driven without any real consideration being given to whether or not this is a sensible future shape for our armed forces.

"This is a time when we seem to be over-stretching the forces that we've got. We simply cannot continue with the imbalance at the present time.

"Either we have to increase resources to match our commitments, or we'll have to reduce those commitments."

He also suggested that a review of forces' needs could also lead to an increase in work for defence industries in the North-East.

But Berwick MP Alan Beith accused Dr Fox of misunderstanding the situation regarding RAF Boulmer. Rather than being carried out to save money, the moves will prove "extremely expensive" he said, raising hopes that the cost could deter the Ministry of Defence from pressing ahead with the plan.

Dr Fox said there should be no public inquiry into deaths at the Deepcut army base in Surrey, including that of Private Geoff Gray, of Seaham, County Durham, in September 2001. The 17-year-old was found with two gunshot wounds to the forehead and his parents do not accept the suggestion it was suicide.

"It's obviously difficult for the parents of those involved to come to terms with what's happened, but I can't see anything that would justify re-opening the whole issue and having a public inquiry," he said.

The case for an independent ombudsman to look into allegations of bullying in the forces, as advocated by North Durham MP Kevan Jones, is a "balanced one" he said, but stressed the chain of command should not be undermined.

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