This week’s main security and defence news has been that the construction of the first of the new class of Trident missile-caring submarines has commenced. The Daily Telegraph reports that the programme to build replacement nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy “cannot and must not slip” the Defence Secretary warned as he pushed the button to start work on the £41bn project. Sir Michael Fallon, speaking as he started the machine to cut the first steel for the 17,000-tonne ‘Successor’ class of nuclear missile submarines at BAE Systems’ plant in Barrow-in-Furness, said he was “throwing down the gauntlet” to industry. “Successor can’t be late because the Vanguard submarines [the current generation of Trident submarines] are coming to the end of their working life,” Sir Michael said.
The plan to build four of the 153-metre Successor submarines has been costed at £31bn, with a £10bn contingency fund, with BAE, the government and the Royal Navy saying they had taken on board the lessons of the earlier project. With Britain’s poor history of delivering major naval projects on budget – the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers doubled in price to more than £6bn – Sir Michael said the contingency fund “was 'Plan B’”. He faced the embarrassment of having to source steel from the French supplier Industeel, having said no British firms were able to supply the material which will be used to create the new submarines’ outer pressure hull. Sir Michael said that “Obviously we would have preferred to buy British,” but 85% of the between £8bn and £9bn of equipment being bought in for the project would come from the UK.
While progress on the project to date has been largely symbolic rather than substantive, this week’s formal launch underlines the Government’s commitment to a continual at-sea deterrent following the parliamentary vote earlier in the year. The Federation will be continuing to work to highlight the importance of robust security (delivered in large part by the MDP) for the deterrent, particularly given the level of expenditure involved.
- Conservative Party Conference takes place
- New Shadow Defence Secretary appointed
- Plan for UK military to opt out of European Convention on Human Rights
- Army chief demands review into investigators hounding 'vulnerable' British troops
- German canoeist sparks security alert at Faslane
- New plan for UK to strengthen military links with Germany
- Police widen search for missing RAF man
- Claim that a resurgent al-Qaeda is plotting attacks against UK
Conservative Party Conference takes place
This week has seen the Conservative Party conference take place in Birmingham. In her keynote address, Prime Minister May closed the event with a speech setting out her commitment to create “a country that works for everyone”, and what “Britain after Brexit” should look like. Mrs May labelled Labour the new “nasty party” due to its current fractious state; claimed the Conservative party will “build bridges” to represent the needs of the many; and called on her colleagues to reflect upon a new centre ground in British politics, also claiming the working class has carried out a “quiet revolution” against the Establishment in voting to leave the European Union. Mrs May offered a balanced argument of supporting free trade, but indicated hers would be a government prepared to intervene when markets are “dysfunctional”.
Mrs May only touched on defence policy briefly, with a reaffirming of the Party’s commitment to spending two percent of GDP on defence (in line with NATO requirements), and pledged to “never again – in any future conflict – let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave – the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces.” She also praised the performance of Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon MP – one of the few senior ministers to have kept his role following the departure of David Cameron. Although she did not reference it during her speech, the issue of the UK’s scope for pushing back against plans for an EU Army has also been a topic at the conference.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also addressed the conference. His speech focused on the increase in defence resources under last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review. In large part to play down fears regarding the Brexit vote, he highlighted the UK’s commitment to NATO and listed the many current engagements of the Armed Forces as a demonstration of Britain’s international engagement. Mr Fallon also touched on the need to protect service personnel from malicious legal claims – including an announcement that the UK would derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights in future conflicts to ensure it could not be applied to the battlefield.
In relation to defence, the abiding message of the conference was one of ‘business as usual’. With serious global doubts about Britain’s desire to engage with the world following the vote to leave the EU, this message was directed at an international as well as domestic audience.
New Shadow Defence Secretary appointed
As part of a post-leadership election reshuffle, Jeremy Corbyn has appointed Nia Griffith MP as Shadow Defence Secretary, replacing Clive Lewis, who is now Shadow Business Secretary. The appointment comes only ten days after Mr Lewis announced to the Labour conference that the Party would not be changing its official policy of supporting the renewal of Trident until after the 2020 election. Ms Griffith shares the Labour leader's anti-Trident position and attended the Cardiff launch of the Stop Trident campaign in October.
Ms Griffith has been the MP for Llanelli since 2005. Having served as a PPS to Harriet Harman from 2007-2010, she was appointed as a shadow minister in 2010. In 2016, Jeremy Corbyn appointed her as Secretary of State for Wales. Notably though, she stood down from the Shadow Cabinet in June 2016, saying Mr Corbyn did not give her confidence that he can unite the party and get it ready for a potential early general election. Her appointment can consequently be viewed as something of a surprise (particularly given the brief tenure of her predecessor Clive Lewis, who has been named as Shadow Business Secretary) and an effort at rapprochement between her and her party leader.
Ms Griffith is considered to be on the left of the Labour Party and opposed the Iraq war. However, she has otherwise been loyal to the Party’s voting line, rebelling only against the replacement of Trident nuclear weapons in 2007. In December 2015, she was one of 153 Labour MPs who voted against allowing air strikes against ISIL in Syria.
The Federation will approach Ms Griffith with a meeting request in order to ensure that she is appropriately briefed on the role the MDP plays in the UK’s security arrangements.
Plan for UK military to opt out of European Convention on Human Rights
As referenced above, The Guardian reports that controversial plans for the military to opt out from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) during future conflicts will be introduced by ministers, to see off what the Prime Minister described as an “industry of vexatious claims” against soldiers. The long-mooted idea was announced at the Conservative Party conference, although it was immediately criticised by human rights groups who said it was based on a false narrative of spurious lawsuits. Theresa May said the change would “put an end to the industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts”. It would be implemented by introducing a “presumption to derogate” from the ECHR in warfare.
Derogating from the ECHR in times of war or public emergency is permitted under the rules of the Council of Europe, which oversees the Strasbourg-based institution. Certain key convention rights – such as the prohibition against torture – nonetheless remain in place even if the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has been informed in advance of a temporary derogation. The UK is not the first nation to take this step. Ukraine gave notice of a derogation in June 2015, in relation to the fighting on its border with Russia.
Army chief demands review into investigators hounding 'vulnerable' British troops
The Daily Telegraph reports that the head of the Army has demanded a review into investigators hounding “vulnerable” troops in his first intervention in the row over the treatment of war veterans. In a letter sent to the MoD and senior commanders, General Sir Nick Carter also branded a “significant number” of allegations made against them as “not credible”. He added that his soldiers needed to be spared the “trauma and long term distress” of being questioned by investigators unless absolutely necessary.
Sir Nick, the Chief of the General Staff, circulated the letter – seen by The Daily Telegraph – after a series of revelations in this newspaper about the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). IHAT is investigating almost 1,500 allegations of mistreatment and unlawful killing of Iraqis. A separate inquiry, Operation Northmoor, is looking at more than 550 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan dating back to 2005.
German canoeist sparks security alert at Faslane
The Scottish Daily Record reports that a German national sparked a security alert at the home of UK’s nuclear weapons – after paddling into restricted waters in a canoe. Tuarrk Siessen made his way into Faslane Naval Base near to where a fleet of submarines with nuclear warheads are based. The MDP then swooped on the 20-year-old – who has been living at Faslane Peace Camp while in Scotland. Mr Siessen was arrested and subsequently appeared at Dumbarton Sheriff Court to face sentencing for the crime.
Fiscal depute Scott Simpson told the court: “The accused was seen and found in the canoe within the restricted area at around 2.15pm. It wouldn’t surprise the court to know there’s a process of observation in this area.” He added “When MDP approached him he wasn’t uncooperative”. The court heard that Mr Siessen has been receiving £140 per month in benefits from the German government while awaiting his court appearance. Mr Siessen admitted a charge of unlawfully entering a protected channel at Faslane, breaching the Faslane, Coulport and Rhu Narrows 1986 Byelaw. Sheriff Gallacher said: “I’m told this was an inadvertent act on your behalf”, but added that “So everyone knows that this can’t be accepted, I’m going to impose a monetary penalty of £100.”
Incidents such as this demonstrate the value of a MDP that is capable of dealing with the full spectrum of challenges and threats. As the construction of a new class of Trident-carrying submarines commences, the threat from terrorist attack on the UK’s nuclear weapons facilities remains, but the challenge of unarmed civilian protestors – whether or not they are genuinely intending to trespass into secure facilities – will likely escalate.
New plan for UK to strengthen military links with Germany
The Times reports that more than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, Britain has agreed to forge a closer military alliance with Germany. British and German troops will step up training exercises and be deployed on operations together as part of the enhanced partnership. The deal comes despite the Brexit fallout, and Germany’s desire to build an EU Army — an ambition that the British government opposes.
Britain formally elevated Germany to top-tier military status alongside the United States and France in a review of defence and security that was published last year. This could pave the way for Britain and Germany to build a specific UK-German force, similar to a UK-French expeditionary unit created six years ago.
Police widen search for missing RAF man
The Independent reports that police have widened their search for a missing RAF serviceman as his mother expressed fears that he may have been kidnapped. Corrie McKeague, 23, who is based in RAF Honington in Suffolk, was last seen in the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds in the early hours of September 24. The town and the air base are both about 30 miles from RAF Marham, where two men of middle eastern appearance tried to kidnap an RAF serviceman who was out running in July.
After conducting searches along the A134 between Bury St Edmunds and RAF Honington over the weekend, police have now started looking further afield, with the operation to find Mr McKeague involving the RAF, search-and-rescue volunteers and police helicopters.
Claim that a resurgent al-Qaeda is plotting attacks against UK
The Times reports that a resurgent al-Qaeda is plotting attacks against Britain with renewed vigor as Islamic State comes under pressure, sources have told the newspaper. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, also told The Times that the terrorist network posed a “very direct threat” to the UK and Europe. An offshoot in Syria — the Nusra Front, recently renamed the Fateh al-Sham Front — is regarded by the West as the most potent, with senior leaders believed to be on the ground actively working on attack plans. One figurehead of the group was reportedly killed in a US drone strike on Monday.
Nigel Inkster, a former director of operations at MI6 who now works for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in London, said: “Al-Qaeda have been rebuilding quietly and waiting out Islamic State, waiting to see Islamic State come under the pressure it has come under.”