Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 02nd March 2015
This week’s main UK defence news has centred upon the continuation of the defence spending debate. The Times reports that new analysis has shown that a failure to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence will short-change the military by up to £6 billion a year, making it impossible for Britain to afford key equipment. The paper also covers rumours the Treasury is planning a freeze of defence spending in cash term over the next five years, which will result in a real-term spending cut (due to inflation) of around eight per cent. The Daily Telegraph (and others) reports that Col Bob Stewart, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee and the former Commander of UN forces in Bosnia, has said senior generals should sacrifice their careers to protest against cuts to Britain's defence budget. Even The Guardian, traditionally a paper which offers little support for military expenditure, has published an editorial demanding that both the UK and Europe as a whole engage in a debate about defence requirements.
Despite this activity, none of the major political parties have signalled that they are willing to make any move to protect defence spending. This has not been without consequence: The Times reports that Conservative MPs are growing increasingly agitated about the absence of a pledge to protect defence spending in their party’s upcoming manifesto. However, in an interesting development that may have an unexpectedly high level of importance given current opinion polls, the Belfast Telegraph reports that the Democratic Unionist Party – which currently holds eight seats in the House of Commons – has said that it will use its power to ensure defence spending levels are maintained.
UK defence industry under threat from further cuts
The Financial Times reports that whilst much of the focus of the current defence spending debate centres on military capabilities, further cuts also represent a considerable threat to industry. With military budgets squeezed and an efficiency drive under way to reform the MoD’s purchasing process, the defence projects most vulnerable to cuts are also those most critical to maintaining industry capacity in Britain. The dilemma is well illustrated by the Type-26 frigate, intended to replace the Type-23s when they retire from service from 2020 onwards. The Royal Navy’s plans at present envisage an order for thirteen ships, but many fear a repeat of the process that affected the UK’s Type-45 destroyer programme: twelve were proposed for purchase, then eight. Only six came into service. Were this to happen with the Type 26 programme, it is likely that the construction of large warships in the UK would become impossible to commercially sustain. Similar challenges also face the UK aerospace industry.
MoD names preferred bidder to run Marchwood military port
The BBC reports that the MoD has chosen Solent Gateway Ltd to manage Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre following a tendering process begun in May. The 91-hectare port facility is used by the MoD to send material overseas. It is currently operating below capacity and it is hoped the arrangement would generate profits for the government. Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: “Maximising the commercial potential of the port will bring financial benefits for years to come, in terms of both profit share and the reduction in the cost of services to the Army.” The contract is yet to be signed, but the MoD has said plans are “on track” for the new operator to take over the running of Marchwood in the autumn. If the agreement is signed, Solent Gateway Ltd is expected to develop areas of the port. This will be a joint venture between David MacBrayne Limited and GBA (Holdings) Limited.
Survey suggests that majority of Labour parliamentary candidate oppose Trident
The Daily Telegraph reports that three quarters of Labour candidates running for office in the May General Election oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. The survey also shows that eighty per cent of the party’s target seats are being fought by candidates opposed to Trident. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has hinted that he could support a cheaper alternative to Trident, and the CND poll strengthens the prospect that Britain may no longer maintain an independent nuclear defence should he enter Downing Street with the support of the SNP. The SNP has suggested that cancelling Trident would be a precondition for entering into talks with the Labour Party in the event of a hung parliament at the General Election in May 2014.
Former Royal Marine killed fighting ISIS
The Daily Mail reports that the family of former Royal Marine Konstandinos Erik Scurfield say they are 'devastated' that he has been killed while fighting against ISIS in Syria. Mr Scurfield died while fighting against the terror group with the Kurdistan People's Protection Units (YPG) in the Al-Hasakah province of Syria on Monday. The former member of Royal Marine's 45 Commando unit reportedly left the elite regiment just months ago and went to the Middle East after befriending fighters in the region on Facebook. Mr Scurfield, the son of archaeologists Chris and Vicci, is understood to have told friends he was going to do humanitarian work in the war-torn country last year after being “horrified by the atrocities carried out by ISIS.”
New opinion polls suggests Labour faces collapse in Scotland
The Daily Mail reports that a dramatic SNP surge in Scotland is set to leave Labour with just two Scottish MPs. The study of marginal constituencies also suggests Labour and the Conservatives are heading for electoral deadlock in May, with neither party able to govern alone. The poll, commissioned by former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft, suggests the SNP is on course for a landslide at the General Election, winning as many as 56 of Scotland's 59 seats – up from just six at present. At Westminster, the poll suggests Labour and the Conservatives will be tied on 272 seats each – well short of the 326 needed to command a Commons majority.
Anti-Trident protestors blockade AWE Burghfield
The BBC reports that about 150 campaigners for British nuclear disarmament have attempted to form a human blockade at a plant in Berkshire that builds Trident warheads. The peaceful protest at AWE Burghfield managed to temporarily close one of the roads to the site and block two entrances. Action AWE, which organised the “Burghfield Lockdown”, said the protest aimed to bring “work on Trident warheads to a halt”. A spokesperson from AWE Burghfield said: “We have been working closely with both Thames Valley Police and the Ministry of Defence Police to ensure the safety and security of the Aldermaston and Burghfield sites and to ensure the impact on local residents is minimised.”
New figures on number of police leaving force for disciplinary reasons published
The BBC reports that a total of 444 police officers have left the service for disciplinary reasons in the 12 months after a new system was introduced for logging misconduct cases. The figures are from the 43 forces in England and Wales, British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police. The register, which began in December 2013, aims to prevent police re-joining after leaving for disciplinary reasons. The Disapproved Register was set up by the new body responsible for setting police standards, the College of Policing. The 444 officers placed on the register represents about one in 300 serving officers. From that figure, 199 had been sacked, but 245 resigned or retired while they were still subject to a gross misconduct investigation, which meant they were able to escape formal sanctions.
MoD Police dogs hold demonstration for students
‘This is The West Country’ reports that Ministry of Defence Police dogs at Plymouth Naval Base have demonstrated their skills to students. The Plymouth University Public Service Degree students were hosted by the dog section at HM Naval Base, Devonport, as part of their final year studies. The highly trained animals and their handlers showed off their explosives-tracking skills and how to help apprehend a suspect on the run. The MOD Police in Plymouth have a dedicated dog unit which is used for patrol security duties, detection (drugs and explosives) and as an added deterrent, and a fleet of boats on the water protecting Royal Navy ships and submarines and providing escort.