Army veterans in protest at plans to axe their battalion
By James Edgar
Hundreds of army veterans have marched in Westminster to protest about the scrapping of a historic battalion.
Former soldiers from Second Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF), delivered a petition at 10 Downing Street before setting off in formation down Whitehall towards Parliament.
Wearing their distinctive red and white plumes in their berets, the ex-servicemen marched to a fife and drum band dressed in ceremonial animal skins.
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Colonel Ian Brazier, Chairman of The Fusiliers Association, led the protest which included several former Colonels of the Regiment, families and widows.
They were joined by around ten MPs, including John Baron (Basildon and Billericay), who is leading a cross-party drive for a re-evaluation of the Government's defence cuts.
Organisers said the demonstration outside Parliament is only the second public military protest since the British Army was formed in 1707.
Col Brazier – who recently interrupted Defence Secretary Philip Hammond's speech at the Conservative Party Conference, calling him a "disgrace" – said: "It makes absolutely no sense for 2RRF to be disbanded.
"The Government has spoken about efficiencies and cost savings, but there is no explanation for this unfathomable decision, despite repeated formal requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
"A public review of the criteria which led to the last minute substitution of 2RRF for disbandment, ostensibly offered by the Secretary of State for Defence, has not materialised. It has proved to be an empty offer.
"So far, this has been a striking demonstration of poor management and leadership on the Government's part, to say nothing of the betrayal of the hundreds of men who have served in the Second Battalion."
It was announced in July last year that the Army will be downsized to 82,000 regular troops by 2020.
Organisers of the protest said they had seen letters from the MoD that show 2RRF was not on the original list for disbandment, as it is one of the best recruited and most sustainable regiments in the army, with strong local ties to Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, and London.
They said 2RRF was instead substituted for a battalion from a regiment with a poorer recruitment and retention record, with no explanation.
Mr Baron, a former Fusilier, said: "The axing of 2RRF proves the Government's mishandling of these army reforms. It makes no sense to save less well-recruited – and therefore more expensive – battalions. Such a policy simply reinforces failure and costs the taxpayer more.
"It is yet more evidence that Government plans to replace 20,000 regulars with 30,000 reservists are on the rocks.
"They will not deliver the cost savings envisaged. Replacing regular troops with reservists will be expensive and lead to unacceptable manpower and capability gaps, but the Government seems determined to plough on blindly."