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Government Spending Tories to fork out £48m for new defence centre

HUNDREDS of military personnel responsible for the detection of chemical weapons were axed by the government back in 2011 and now it’s forking out £48 million for a new defence centre.

Tory Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said yesterday that the money would be used for a new chemical weapons centre in Porton Down in response to the alleged nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in nearby Salisbury.

But, six years ago, the Con-Dems slashed 319 personnel employed at the MoD unit solely responsible for chemical weapons defence.

According to a government newsletter published in October 2011, the Con-Dems dissolved the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) force, part of the British army, in 2011 in order to save £129m over 10 years.

The unit is currently known as the Defence CBRN Wing and is responsible for detecting use of biological warfare agents, decontamination, sampling, identification and transportation of these substances — but now with a much-reduced capacity.

The responsibility was transferred from the Royal Tank Regiment to the RAF under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, four years after the fatal polonium poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in a sushi restaurant in London.

Wing Commander Lee Taylor, who was then commandant of the CBRN Force, warns personnel in the CBRN newsletter that the cuts will produce “an unsettling and challenging period for all of us.”

Former commanding officer from 2004 to 2007 Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said that the regiment was disbanded because it was considered to be “a relic of the cold war.”

With regards to the alleged attempted murder of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4, he told the Telegraph: “All the more sobering, therefore, to see virtually all our remaining assets in chemical defence deployed on the streets of Salisbury today to deal with what is probably less than an egg cup full of nerve agent.

“After Salisbury, that capability must surely be rebuilt. Much more difficult, however, will be putting the genie of chemical and biological weapons back in its bottle.”

The Star contacted the MoD for comment regarding the cuts to staff.

A spokesman said: “The wing has sufficient posts to fulfil the required tasks, all capabilities are kept under review. We have seen the bravery and expertise of our CBRN teams this week in Salisbury.

“We have recently launched the modernising defence programme to strengthen our armed forces in the face of intensifying threats.”

Meanwhile, Mr Williamson was roundly ridiculed yesterday for telling Russia to “go away and shut up” over the 23 diplomats being expelled from Britain.

The Tories had accepted £30,000 from the wife of former Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin to have dinner with Mr Williamson, it was revealed earlier this week.

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