Howard promises to reverse regiment mergers By George Jones, Political Editor (Filed: 31/03/2005) The Government's decision to cut four infantry battalions from the Army was a "stab in the back" for the servicemen and women Tony Blair sent into the line of fire in Iraq, Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, said yesterday. He gave a pledge to reverse the planned mergers of historic regiments, including the Black Watch, if the Conservatives win the coming general election. Michael Howard looks at Eurofighter Mr Howard says Blair is gambling with national security Mr Howard claimed that in January more than 50 redundancy letters were sent to serving officers in Iraq. "To make matters worse, some of our servicemen and women were sent to Iraq without the right equipment - the right boots, the right combat kit or the right body armour. Nor did they have the equipment to cope with the threat of chemical or biological weapons," he said. In a speech in Blackpool setting out Conservative defence policy, he said regiments that were the focus of loyalty, the nurseries of military excellence and potent symbols of pride, were to have their identities casually erased. The Royal Navy, already smaller than at any time in modern history, was to lose three type 42 destroyers and three type 23 frigates. For the first time in 200 years, Britain would have a smaller navy than France, while the RAF would lose 7,500 personnel under Labour's plans. Mr Howard said Mr Blair was gambling with the national security and placing increased strain on the Armed Forces. He promised that a Conservative government would "save" the regiments and the three type 23 frigates that were being cut by Labour. A Tory government would spend Â£2.7 billion more on front-line defence than Labour. The Tory leader criticised Mr Blair for elevating European defence integration at the expense of Britain's long-standing commitment to the Atlantic Alliance. He said Britain's network of formal alliances and shared interests was being put at risk, despite the close co-operation with the US over Iraq, by "Mr Blair's obsession with the European Union". Gp Capt Al Lockwood, 53, the former fighter pilot who served in Iraq and is now standing against Tony Blair at the next election, yesterday accused the Prime Minister of letting down ordinary people and the Armed Forces. The official military spokesman during the Iraq war, will be the Conservative candidate in Mr Blair's Sedgefield, Co Durham, constituency. "Everyone who cares deeply about this country can see we are heading in the wrong direction," Gp Capt Lockwood said.