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The Houses of Parliament have remained on recess this week for Whitsun recess. The House of Commons will not return until Monday 3rd June and the House of Lords will resume business on Tuesday 4th June.
The Guardian has reported that officers who provided security for London’s Olympics have been assigned to provide security at the G8 summit being held in Northern Ireland on the 17th June. Marines teams which patrolled the Thames and sailing venues at Weymouth and Portland have already started security operations around the waters of Lough Erne, near to where the world’s most powerful political leaders are meeting. Around 3,600 officers from Great Britain will be travelling to Northern Ireland to support 5,000 local police officers on G8 deployment and included in their number will be Dorset Constabulary and MDP officers.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that senior American commander, General Ray Odierno, has raised concerns that Britain’s shrinking forces will be unable to work alongside the Americans. The comments come as ministers fight over a fresh round of spending reductions that could force another round of defence cuts. General Odierno said such cuts were already impacting US-UK joint operations, and leaving the British reliant on American forces. Speaking at a Washington think-tank, the General warned that defence cuts across the board by America’s European allies risk undermining NATO and Transatlantic cooperation. Whitehall sources have previously warned that further cuts may take British defence spending below 2% of GDP, regarded by the US as the benchmark for a serious military power. The Times says that this warning by a senior American commander may “strengthen the hand of Philip Hammond” in his battle to avert more cuts in the Spending Review next month.
Liberal Democrat MP Alan Reid tabled the following written questions:
The Daily Express has reported that military families are worried that they are vulnerable to attack by extremists after police patrols were withdrawn from Woolwich barracks. The day after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, mothers of serving soldiers met army chiefs to call for more protection. The Express says that “Highly trained MOD police would have been at the scene of the murder in minutes had they still been conducting patrols.” The newspaper highlighted that MOD police are trained to deal with life threatening incidents on the perimeter of the barracks and have authority to shoot to kill.
The Express reported that they had been informed by a source that had MOD police been in place, they would have been able to respond to the situation quicker than the Metropolitan police firearms team. The same source also informed the Express that MOD police radios were linked into the Metropolitan Police’s, “so they would have been right on top of this within minutes and would have known exactly what to do”. The large barracks and surrounding homes in south-east London were once regularly patrolled by 29 MOD police armed with pistols and MP5 machine-guns. However, operations have been gradually scaled down until 2 months ago when the last three unarmed officers were found other work.
A wife to a soldier stationed at Woolwich said military families “felt a lot safer” when armed MOD police were patrolling the barracks. The wife said that the military families have asked the MOD to reinstate the guards full time, and following the attack last week, MOD patrols have been re-introduced. The Express says the decision for the MOD police to be withdrawn was because army chiefs no longer believed the base was at risk by Irish terrorists.
The Times reported this week that the Home Office withdrew anti-terror funding from the area where Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered because the Department deemed the risk of extremism was low. The decision to exclude Greenwich from the Government’s Prevent strategy was taken in 2011 after a risk assessment concentrated resources on 25 areas selected on the perceived threat of extremism. Among the projects abolished was one which brought youths aged 14 to 19 face to face with Muslim soldiers, Gurkha warriors and Second World War veterans.
However, the paper has noted that after the attack the Home Office has since put the area back on the strategy. It reported that one of the suspects in the killing of Drummer Rigby lived in the Greenwich area and attended a local prayer group led by a radical preacher. Greenwich received more than £500,000 during the first four years of Prevent, the bulk of money coming in a three-year grant. The Labour Government allocated cash on how many Muslims lived in a district, but the Coalition has targeted priority areas using police indicators of terrorist activity. The council said that anti-terrorism funding was withdrawn because the Government “did not consider that the intelligence warranted Greenwich being named a priority area”.
The Financial Times has reported that the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is proving “particularly awkward” in the effort to find £11.5bn of further spending cuts across government. The FT says Mr Hammond has staked out an independent position as “the defender of the Armed Forces”. According to the paper, the Defence Secretary has not yet submitted his analysis of how his department could save the 5% being asked by the chancellor, a proportion which is half the 10% being asked of other departments.
Defence officials have pointed out that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, is reviewing how the department could become more efficient and say their submission cannot be made before then. On the Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hammond said that there was already an “aggressive efficiency programme” in place, and further efficiency savings would have to be agreed in an “adult conversation” with the Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
When asked about non-efficiency savings, Mr Hammond said that there would have to be a discussion across all government departments over how this could be delivered. The FT understands that the Defence Secretary is pushing for a chunk of the education and health budgets to help pay for soldiers and their families. The FT says that Mr Hammond’s actions are being perceived as a pattern of disloyalty “aimed at boosting his political prospects”. The newspaper says that with 80% of spending cuts still to be agreed, the £24.5bn Departmental budget for 2014-15 is likely to be reduced by a further £1.7bn in 2015-16.
The Financial Times has reported that the Conservatives and Lib Dems are set to staunchly debate conflicting proposals for a replacement of the Trident nuclear missile deterrent. While the Conservatives have always backed spending £200bn on new submarines, the Lib Dems have persistently campaigned for a cheaper alternative. Although a final decision isn’t required until 2016, the FT says a Cabinet Office review is due to reveal that no other alternative to Trident will end up saving money.
The review will claim that alternatives such as nuclear tipped cruise missiles will end up being more expensive than a like-for-like replacement of the existing system, whilst a land-based system is deemed impractical for a small country such as the UK. However, the review will not say that a simple like-for-like is the only viable alternative. Instead, it will suggest reducing the number of submarines from four to three, and possibly even two, which would mean an end to the idea that Britain always has a nuclear capability at sea which is ready to be deployed.
One source close to the review says moving to two submarines would save up to £5bn in immediate capital costs and another £1bn a year through employing fewer crew and having to carry out less maintenance work. However, Defence experts have warned that projected savings are overestimated because the design costs make up much of the development cost, and a fourth boat is needed in the event of a failure of the nuclear generator on any of the submarines.
The Financial Times has also reported that senior advisers at the MOD have said that the Liberal Democrat plan to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system with a scaled-down version will put British jobs at risk. The newspaper published a joint-letter by Bernard Jenkin MP, Conservative Chairman of public administration select committee and Lord West, former Labour Defence Minister which warns against replacing Trident with a cheaper variant. The politicians say that abandoning the round-the-clock deterrence, as suggested by the Lib Dems, would undermine British security and could even exacerbate global tensions when they do flare.