Veterans fight back in Fusiliers battle

Fusiliers gather during the event in London.
Fusiliers gather during the event in London.

A BLOW has been dealt to Government plans to disband a Northumberland army battalion, following a defeat in a House of Commons vote.

More than 450 ex-servicemen marched on Parliament last Thursday to protest at the proposed axing of the Second Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, despite it being one of the UK’s best recruiters.

Their campaign has received support from Morpeth Town Council and Northumberland County Council. And inside the Commons, Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has launched a blistering attack on the rationale behind the cut.

Speaking to a motion made by former Fusilier John Baron MP, for the House to oppose disbandment, Sir Alan referred to a letter he had received from Armed Forces Minister Andrew Robothan which explained how the decision was reached.

He said: “The letter went on to demonstrate quite clearly that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers should not be one of the five battalions that go, saying ‘After the removal of four battalions, the method for predicting future sustainability became less statistically discerning.’

“I think it should win a ‘Yes Minister’ prize for obfuscatory circumlocution – or, to put it another way, dodging the issue with fancy words.

“A little further, the letter says ‘Therefore to determine the fifth battalion to be removed from the order of battle required the application of criteria that went wider than demographics’ – in other words, ‘We told the officials to find some other reason which would enable us to disband the 2nd Battalion’.

“This is the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons and with the wrong results for the efficiency of the Army and the defence and security of this country.”

During the debate, Mr Robothan asked that the gallery be cleared because some of the ex-servicemen were gently applauding MPs supporting their cause. However, the deputy speaker declined his request.

Put to the vote, 57 MPs opposed the disbandment of 2RRF, while also noting that it had fallen foul of the Government’s ‘additional’ criteria. Three MPs voted against the motion.

Forming up at the Old Stable Yard, the protestors were met by Mr Baron and at the end of the march they were played into Parliament by a Northumbrian Piper.

Major Chester Potts, chairman of the Fusiliers Association in Northumberland, said: “Military logic has not prevailed and they have been victims of a great injustice with the Government’s insistence that no cap badges were to go.

“But this decision has given them all hope that their beloved battalion will be spared and that, for the time being, there is hope of a reprieve both for them and their families, many of them from Northumberland.”

Morpeth Town Council recently added its backing. Members of the Finance and General Purposes Committee heard how the Regiment has a long association with the town and they agreed with one abstention to support the campaign.

Silverwear relating to the Fusiliers is still in the hands of the council and members and veterans always take part in the Morpeth Remembrance Day service.

Mayor Mark Horton said: “Really the council should be putting its support towards the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t – a lot of Morpeth people in the past have been members of that Regiment.

“I feel on a purely Morpeth basis we should at least be offering our support, although how successful that will be in the overall scheme of things I’m not sure.”

Meanwhile, residents across the county are being urged to support an online call for the battalion to be retained.

Northumberland County Council is supporting an epetition to the Government. If it receives 100,000 signatures it will trigger a full debate in Parliament.

In 2010, the Regiment was granted the Freedom of Northumberland – the county’s highest civic honour – at a ceremony in Morpeth.

Coun Andrew Tebbutt, executive member for corporate resources, said: “We are particularly proud of our close association with the Regiment and I hope that residents share that same sense of pride. The Fusiliers have been a real force for good in Northumberland and are important to the region.”

To sign the epetition, go to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35724