Nick Harvey vs George Osborne: How much does a long piece of string cost?

This morning, on BBC Breakfast, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey gave a revealing interview . He speculated that ground troops may be used in Libya and that they may be there for some time:

Mr Harvey was also questioned on whether there would be a ground force entering Libya, and whether it would be an occupying force:
“I don’t think we would at this stage rule anything in or rule anything out….It’s something that the twists and turns of the next few days and weeks will determine, what any individual country puts into this fray….I think it’s a question of interpretation where the deployment of ground troops becomes the landing of an occupying force and I just don’t think its productive to speculate on that but I cannot foresee it on any significant scale.”

He added that he did not know how long troops would be involved in Libya for.
“How long is a piece of string? We don’t know how long this is going to go on for.”

Later in the chamber, George Osborne suggested that the Libya mission is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions. Yet if Nick Harvey had said that he didn’t know how long troops might be in Libya he couldn’t with any certainty predict how much it was going to cost. And given Nick Harvey’s comments it could indeed costs hundreds of millions. At £900K a missile, I’m pretty certain the action will cost cost more than tens of millions.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Will the Chancellor make every effort to keep the House informed about the cost of our operations in Libya by providing an estimate at the earliest opportunity? Will he also tell us whether those costs will be funded from the Ministry of Defence budget or drawn from the Treasury reserve?

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend alerted me to the fact that he might ask this question. The House will understand that it is too early to give a robust estimate of the costs of the operations in Libya, but I can say that they should be modest compared with some other operations, such as Afghanistan. The MOD’s initial view is that they will be in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions. I can tell the House today that whatever they turn out to be, the additional costs of operations in Libya will be fully met from the reserve.

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