This week’s main security and defence news has been the arrest of four Army soldiers on suspicion of being members of an illegal neo-Nazi group. The Guardian reports that a 22-year-old from Birmingham, a 32-year-old from Powys, a 24-year-old from Ipswich and a 24-year-old from Northampton, all men, have been arrested under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of being members of a proscribed organisation.
An Army source said a fifth serving soldier had been arrested in Cyprus. It is understood that three of the men served with the Royal Anglian regiment.
National Action, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist group, was banned as a terrorist organisation in December by the Home Secretary. The group, which lauded the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox, has held demonstrations in UK cities, and the slogan on its former website was the only statement given in court by Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair.
An Army spokesman said: “We can confirm that a number of serving members of the Army have been arrested under the Terrorism Act for being associated with a proscribed far right group.” He added “These arrests are the consequence of a Home Office Police Force led operation supported by the Army. This is now the subject of a civilian police investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The Independent reports that the Government is being urged to launch an inquiry into far-right extremism in the Armed Forces. The Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Home Secretary, Ed Davey, praised the “swift action” against arrested soldiers, but said “Questions remain over whether the Armed Forces are consistently monitoring for extremist activity in their ranks”. The Green Party warned that cases abroad showed that serving members of the Armed Forces are “vulnerable to recruitment” from far-right groups. Co-leader Jonathan Bartley said: “The Government’s failure to launch an inquiry into extremism within the armed forces suggests it is afraid of what it will find.”
· DPF National Chairman raises concerns over MDP
· Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
· Conservative members of the Defence Select Committee named
· Report of further planned defence cuts
· Warning over mental health impact of police cuts on senior officers
· UK terrorism threat ‘to remain severe for at least five years’
· New National Shipbuilding Strategy launched
· MoD names lead of Trident renewal programme
· Police issue warning over ‘New IRA’ bomb type
· Devon and Cornwall Police to explore merger with Dorset force
DPF National Chairman raises concerns over MDP
Defence Business has published a comment piece from DPF National Chairman Eamon Keating, in which he highlighted how planned cuts to the MDP’s budget and officer numbers could leave defence sites more vulnerable to attack. In the article, Mr Keating noted the high cost of the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier programme and the recapitalisation of the Trident system as examples of the MoD’s focus on “big ticket” items, and emphasised the lack of logic in spending this money but then cutting the resources dedicated to the protection of these assets to produce relatively trivial savings. “At a time when we’re spending tens of billions on massive MoD projects with critical importance to national security, we’re cutting the security of those assets in order to make figures add up on a spreadsheet”, he stated.
Mr Keating then outlined the MoD’s plans to cut £12.5m from the MDP’s budget, and re-set officer numbers to make the current under-strength force of 2,300 the “new normal”. In addition to reducing the number of officers guarding key military in infrastructure sites, he also highlighted how the cuts to the MDP’s highly skilled officers would undermine their ability to provide armed support to Home Office forces in the event of a national emergency, and the inherent problems with replacing MDP officers on guard duty with Armed Forces members.
This article was submitted to Defence Business as part of the DPF’s drive to highlight the unique role MDP officers play in the UK’s national security in the media. We are currently engaging with a number of key national news outlets to provide them with an update on our concerns and priorities.
Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
SNP defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald MP has had a question he tabled on the MDP, asking the Defence Secretary what recent assessment has been made of the effectiveness of MDP recruitment, answered in the House of Commons.
Responding on behalf of the Defence Secretary, Tobias Ellwood, the defence minister with responsibility for the MDP, said that the MDP continues to recruit sufficient officers to meet current and anticipated vacancies within funding constraints.
This parliamentary answer from Tobias Ellwood was a response to one of three questions on the MDP tabled by Stewart McDonald following his meeting with Eamon Keating earlier this year. Mr Ellwood has accepted our request for a meeting with the DPF, and arrangements for this are ongoing.
Conservative members of the Defence Select Committee named
The Conservatives have announced the results of their party’s elections for the membership of the Defence Select Committee. Joining Conservative committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis will be new committee member and MP for Aldershot Leo Docherty; new member and MP for Rayleigh and Wickford Mark Francois; and returning member and MP for Plymouth Moor View Johnny Mercer. Of particular relevance to the DPF is that Mark Francois served as the defence minister with responsibility for the MDP from 2012 to 2013.
The committee members from other parties will be announced in due course.
The confirmation of full Select Committee membership has been significantly delayed following the election in June, with the election of Labour Committee members taking place in July. The DPF will be meeting with Defence Select Committee chairman and MDP supporter Dr Julian Lewis in October, and we will be approaching the other new members of the committee to offer briefings in due course.
Report of further planned defence cuts
The Times reports that cuts to warship and helicopter numbers, troop training and aircraft procurement are being considered to tackle the MoD’s budget challenges. The MoD is trying to close the funding gap that emerged when a defence review in 2015 included the purchase of jets and ships part-funded by unspecified “efficiency savings”. The decrease in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote has also caused difficulties with buying equipment from overseas. One push is focused on balancing the in-year budget, which has a hole of about £2 billion. Another strand forms part of a capability review led by the Cabinet Office. There are also proposals to save money by improving internal structures across defence.
Warning over mental health impact of police cuts on senior officers
The Guardian reports that police are facing a “perfect storm” of staff cuts, new threats and a rise in crime, with many now feeling overworked and showing symptoms of mental ill health, according to a senior officer. Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, the president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, said a confluence of pressures was leaving forces reliant on fewer officers working longer hours.
Half of senior officers have symptoms of anxiety, and 27% show signs of depression, a survey for the association found. It found that only 27% of members felt they had enough resources to do their job properly. Around three-quarters had not taken all of their leave or annual rest days in the last year. “It is frankly unacceptable that the senior operational leaders in policing are under so much pressure that a quarter of them have signs of depression,” Mr Thomas told the Press Association.
UK terrorism threat ‘to remain severe for at least five years’
The BBC reports that the senior UK counter-terrorism officer at Scotland Yard has warned the terror threat level will remain at severe for at least the next five years. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the risk posed to the UK from terrorists was “an unknown threat in our midst”. He also warned isolated communities and unregulated schooling in the UK were a “breeding ground” for extremism. The UK's terror threat level has been at severe since October 2014, apart from a short period when it was raised to critical following the Manchester Arena attack.
Addressing the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference, the deputy assistant commissioner said the authorities could not “arrest their way” out of terrorism because there would be a “revolving door” of suspects. He called for more resources to be devoted to Prevent, the Government's anti-terrorism scheme, which he described as the “most important pillar” of the counter-terror strategy. He also emphasised the importance of neighbourhood policing and response officers who had helped to deal with the recent terror attacks. “That's why we can't afford further cuts to wider policing, even if we remain safe with the CT [counter-terrorism] grant,” he said.
New National Shipbuilding Strategy launched
The MoD has published its long-awaited National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). The BBC reports that the procurement of five Type 31e frigates will sit at the centre of the thirty-year plan. The new frigates would be built across different shipyards, but assembled at a central site, and be ready for service by 2023. Their cost would be capped at £250m each, partly in the hope that foreign navies will buy them.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said that the strategy was a “huge opportunity” for UK shipyards which could bid for these “big contracts” next year, with building expected to start the following year. The Navy currently uses Type 23 frigates. They are to be replaced by eight Type 26 frigates, which are being built in Glasgow, and five of the smaller Type 31e frigates. In July, the Government signed a £3.7bn contract with BAE for the first three Type 26s, underlining their relative expense.
The prospect of work being spread across the UK has raised anger in some areas, with the GMB union claiming it will take away contracts from its Scottish members who were pledged the work. SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said the plan was “all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them.”
There remain serious questions as to whether it will be possible for UK industry to produce a frigate for only £250m – particularly if the work is spread over several sites. The emphasis placed on the strategy also underlines the MoD’s continued focus on equipment as opposed to personnel. As demonstrated in the article by National Chairman Eamon Keating outlined above, the DPF will continue to highlight the false economy endangering the security of billions of pounds in defence assets whilst also seeking to reap the relatively small savings derived from cutting MDP officers number.
MoD names lead of Trident renewal programme
The Daily Telegraph reports that the MoD has named the man responsible for the massive £41bn programme to replace Britain’s Trident submarines. The job of chief executive of the Submarine Delivery Authority (SDA) will go to Ian Booth, who previously headed the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA), the state-industry body charged with constructing the new Queen Elizabeth-class warships. The position comes with annual earnings of almost £500,000.
The SDA job has proved a difficult one for the MoD to fill. Running such a huge and complex project is beset with risks and the pay is relatively low compared with heading a similar size undertaking in industry, making it difficult to find a suitable business heavyweight ready to take on the job.
Police issue warning over ‘New IRA’ bomb type
The Independent reports that police in Northern Ireland have warned that the New IRA has developed a different kind of highly dangerous explosive bomb. It involves a pressure plate designed to detonate when a car drives over it. The method was used by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process who targeted an off-duty officer in Londonderry in February this year.
Superintendent John McVea said the new device had been developed because of the difficulty in attaching booby-trapped bombs to the underside of cars. Historically, this was done using magnets, but modern cars contain more plastic than was previously the case. The bomb itself is a box of explosives wrapped in tape and placed under a car. The pressure plate detonator is activated when a car wheel drives over it.
Devon and Cornwall Police to explore merger with Dorset force
The Guardian reports that the chief constables of Devon & Cornwall and Dorset police have written to the Government saying they want to explore the possibility of a merger. The potential new police force would cover an area of 250 miles wide and with more than 1,000 miles of coast could be created by the merger of two forces. Shaun Sawyer, the Devon & Cornwall chief, and Debbie Simpson, chief of the Dorset force, denied that it is simply about saving money but claim a merger could be a way of making a more efficient single force. The forces will consult members of the public, local councils and MPs. The idea is likely to be met with resistance if a merger leads to any cut in the number of officers.