“The old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European landmass are over”.

Boris Johnson, Defence Select Committee

November 16, 2021

Facts

Mocking the idea of armed conflict returning to Europe at a Defence Select Committee hearing, Boris Johnson said: “The old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European landmass are over”. This came after the Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood said: “We are cutting back on our tanks. What is amassing on the Ukrainian border? It’s tanks. But that’s beside the point. I’m saying step back, look at the wider security picture, look at our defence posture, and see what needs to be done.” He added that in general “capabilities have been reduced”, pointing to cuts to tanks, aircraft and the removal of 10,000 troops.

Johnson dismissed his concerns and responded: “We have to recognise that the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European landmass are over, and there are other, better things we should be investing in, in FCAS, in the future combat air system, in cyber, this is how warfare in the future is going to be.”

Just three months later, the war in Ukraine - centred around tank battles - has proven Mr Johnson wrong. 

Verdict

Johnson’s dismissive statement about tank battles was proved tragically wrong within a few months. The Prime Minister’s statement was false. But that doesn’t mean it was dishonest.  He was giving an opinion. The Prime Minister offered an equally mistaken opinion when he told MPs in July 2021 that there was “no military path to victory” for the Taliban.  

We approached Mr Johnson’s office, the Cabinet Office and the No 10 Press Office to give them a chance to comment, but received no response.

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