THE UK’s Defence Secretary has warned that once the recovery from the pandemic is well underway, SNP ministers will not be able to “just reach for the armed forces” to help cover when they “make a policy failing”.

Ben Wallace issued the alert after the military has been drafted in to help during the pandemic across all parts of the United Kingdom, including to help the vaccine rollout and ease pressure on ambulances north of the border.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists' Association, Mr Wallace, a former Tory MSP at Holyrood, said the Ministry of Defence has been happy to help during the Covid-19 emergency.

Despite the stand-off between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson over independence, Brexit and a host of other issues, Mr Wallace said he “didn’t get a sense of particular ideology” in discussions over military assistance. But he admitted “there was a bit of resistance” from the Scottish Government in publicising the help.

He said: “For me, there’s no qualms about it and I’m glad we can help.

“We’re all one nation, so for me it’s there to help.”

But Mr Wallace stressed that issues could arise for all parts of the UK in the future if that reliance on military help continues.

He said: “It used to be very rare that the military came to the support of civilian authorities and it was usually at time of crisis like a pandemic or floods.

“The danger is governments can get let off the hook when they fail to deliver their own policy and that they just break glass at normal times for the armed forces.”

Mr Wallace added: “Our armed forces have a day job – there are lots of other things to do.” But he acknowledged that “we are all facing the follow-on fallout consequences of the pandemic.”

He added: “But fast forward a few years – we're not there for governments to, where they make a policy failing, to just reach for the armed forces – wherever they are in the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.

“But now, between now and the next few months, who knows how long the pandemic lasts – we are here when we are needed and we will step up for whatever nation of the United Kingdom to deliver that.”

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Mr Wallace said that there was no risk of the military being overwhelmed by requests from the four nations of the United Kingdom, insisting “we are well within the limit”.

He said: “I’m delighted to accept any requests the Scottish Government has as a member of the United Kingdom. “We’ve got plenty. In the winter we put on standby thousands of military personnel, mainly because of the experience of floods. We’ll be there ready to help as long as he wants them.”

He added: “I think we’ve already put on standby something like 4,000-plus people or the whole of the United Kingdom.

“Even in Covid, we put 14,000 on standby or on the rotation and I don’t think we ever got above 9,000.”