PM refuses to rule out British Army squeeze

The Prime Minister has become the first major foreign leader to visit Iraq since the fall of the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.

Visiting British troops in the country, Theresa May spoke about the UK’s commitment to containing the threat of IS (also known as Daesh) amid fears remnants of the terror group will target Europe.

However, in an interview with Sky News, the Prime Minister twice refused to rule out reducing the overall size of the British Army following a Ministry of Defence spending review in January.

She said: “We will maintain our NATO commitment of 2% of GDP being spent on defence.

“What we are doing is ensuring that we are increasing the defence budget.

“We need to look at how we most effectively spend that increased and rising defence budget.

“It is about looking at the threats that we face and ensuring we have the capabilities to meet those threats.”

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood has reportedly threatened to resign if troop numbers drop below 70,000.

A number of Conservative backbenchers are also demanding guarantees from the Prime Minister that the British Army will not be hollowed out by January’s review.

Theresa May visits British troops in Iraq

Image: The PM became the first major foreign leader to visit Iraq since the fall of Mosul

Speaking at Taji military base, north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, Mrs May also explained the purpose of UK efforts to train local security forces.

“It is about ensuring that Iraqi forces are able to conduct the operations they need to conduct themselves,” she said.

“Iraqi forces have been active, they have been seeing military success against Daesh.

“We have seen that in the fall of Mosul.”

Military success against IS means the extremists are increasingly losing control of their territory and resources.

But, in response, the jihadists have become less structured and adopted more fluid tactics.

To counter this threat, the UK will invest £10m over the next three years to build Iraq’s counter-terrorism capability.

Britain will also help to develop border infrastructure, watch lists and biometric capabilities in order to counter the dispersal of foreign fighters across Iraq.

The Prime Minister also announced on Wednesday the UK will continue to support Iraqi defence and security forces.