The repercussions of Sir Michael Fallon’s shock resignation last week are still being felt in politics, with further allegations of misconduct by a range of senior figures continuing to surface in Westminster and the devolved nations. These include allegations against First Minister Damian Green, which have the potential to further undermine the Government.
Professional misconduct has resulted in the second resignation of a cabinet minister in a week. International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, has resigned after it was exposed that she had had meetings with Israeli officials, accompanied by arms lobbyist and Conservative Peer Lord Polak while in Israel on what she initially described as “a family holiday.”. She allegedly had not informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or Number 10, although she refutes this. In the meeting, Ms Patel discussed giving UK aid to the Israeli Army’s controversial humanitarian efforts in the Golan Heights.
Prime Minster Theresa May has also been under pressure to fire Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, whose uninformed comments to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee have resulted in the Iranian government proposing a further five years on the jail term of a British-Iranian citizen. Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe is currently serving a term of five years for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime. While she maintains that she was in the country visiting family with her young daughter, Mr Johnson said that was in Iran to “teach people journalism,” an error which Iranian authorities believe supports their case.
These individual incidents have further undermined Prime Minister Theresa May. It is understood that Conservative backbenchers are giving her until Christmas to re-establish her position and authority. This includes growing pressure on the Prime Minister to conduct a widespread Cabinet reshuffle, although this is highly unlikely to take place before the Budget of 22 November. High profile casualties in such a reshuffle could include Chancellor Philip Hammond, but it seems unlikely Gavin Williamson would be removed from post having just been installed as Secretary of State for Defence.
The defence community responds to change of defence secretary
Senior defence experts have expressed their regret at the resignation of Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary; with his successor Gavin Williamson also being questioned over his suitability for the role. It has been reported in The Independent that General Lord Richard Dannatt, a former Chief of General Staff in the British Army, has said that the news was a “is a personal tragedy for him […] it is a tragedy for defence”. General Lord Dannatt said that Sir Michael had been “a very good secretary of state for defence.”
Experts have noted the change of leadership has come at a particularly difficult time as the MoD faces funding reductions, and a review of 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review led by the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, Mark Sedwill. General Lord Dannatt added that one of Sir Michael’s deputy ministers should have been promoted to Defence Secretary and that “A new secretary of state for defence will find it very difficult to have the confidence to master the brief and to start making that case in the way that Sir Michael Fallon was doing and starting to do extremely well.”
Mr Williamson has said that he is both “honoured and excited” about his promotion from Chief Whip to Defence Secretary, although he told his local paper that he was also “absolutely flabbergasted” about it. The appointment has been greeted with surprise and concern by many in the Conservatives, as Mr Williamson has no experience in the military or in the cabinet (it should be noted that recent Secretaries of State for Defence have also not served in the Armed Forces). The move has been branded by critics of the Prime Minister as further evidence Mrs May is a poor leader who is trying to minimise disruption in her cabinet at a questionable cost.
One Conservative MP said of Mr Williamson’s former job, “Part of the role of the chief whip is to advise the Prime Minister about the suitability of the candidate.” This has led to accusations of Mr Williamson exploiting his influence for personal gain. Another MP damningly said that “Gavin is all about making sure Gavin is in a position from which Gavin can become Prime Minister.” Ms May’s official spokesperson said Mr Williamson was not involved in the reshuffle discussions that saw him appointed. Mr Williamson has also dismissed such allegations, saying that Mrs May “Makes her own decisions and she always does make her own decisions”.
We will be sending our congratulation, and introducing the DPF, to the new Defence Secretary. He has not commented directly on whether he supports calls for more funding in the Department, but he has noted the “rising threats in a worsening international security situation.” The Federation has also written to Mark Sedwill, who is leading the SDSR review, to request a meeting with his team to discuss the security of critical MoD assets and establishments by the MDP.
Commander of the US Army in Europe warns against cuts to defence
Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, Commander of the US Army in Europe, has told the BBC that Britain could risk its leading position in NATO if its armed forces “got any smaller.” General Hodges has consistently urged NATO allies to commit more to their defence spending and since his appointment, the USA has increased its military presence and most NATO countries have reversed recent defence cuts. General Hodges has said that Britain continuing to reduce defence spending took the pressure off other countries to spend more.
He expressed concern about the rumoured proposal that the Royal Navy is selling its two amphibious assault ships and the reduction in personnel in both the Royal Navy and the British Army. He noted that the UK would struggle to meet its current global commitments such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe if its Armed Forces were subjected to further cuts.
General Hodges’ warning is the latest in a slew of senior interventions regarding the defence spending, with Defence Select Committee member Jonny Mercer also insisting the MoD is only meeting the two percent GDP defence spending target through what amounts to creative accounting. However, as noted previously, Chancellor Philip Hammond has little flexibility in the Budget to increase funding, and the relaxation of the public sector pay cap for the Armed Forces is expected to be found in the existing MoD budget – not through any increase in funding.
UK steps up commitment to European security
Newly appointed Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson attended his first NATO Defence Ministerial in Brussels this week, where he announced increased commitment to European security in the form of four RAF Typhoons to the Southern Air Policing Mission in Romania next year. The jets will police the Black Sea skies. Mr Williamson said, “We are standing by our allies across air; deploying Typhoons to Southern Air Policing in Romania, land; increasing our support to the Kosovo peacekeeping operation, and sea; with HMS Ocean returning to the NATO Standing Maritime Group.”
Some member states of the EU have agreed to sign up to a joint defence pact, Reuters reports. The alliance will be called the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). It involves more than 20 member states, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The UK will not be involved. It hopes to establish a “military Schengen zone” in which troops and equipment can move freely around the Union. A German official clarified that this will not be in competition with NATO but complementary to it.
Forces inspectorate highlights funding crisis and poor response to low priority crime in police
The Guardian reports that that the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services has published a report that claimed that the spending of all forces will drop by six per cent in the coming four years from £12.3bnin 2017/18 to £11.6bn by 2020/21, and officer numbers will decrease by just under 3,000. Police chiefs have been asked to make £400m savings. The inspectorate rejected claims made by the Home Office last week that suggested forces were sitting on reserves of more than £1bn. It also rated 32 of the 42 forces inspected as being “good” or “outstanding” on efficiency. The Daily Telegraph has reported that the report also found that some police forces are failing to respond to “low priority crimes”.
Max Cunningham, who led the inspection said, “In reducing demand, it is important that forces do not simply suppress it, by which we mean fail to identify, acknowledge or deal with certain kinds of demand.” However, with regards to funding he said, “From speaking to staff and officers throughout every police force in England and Wales, we can see that policing is under significant stress.” He noted that some forces could be more innovative and needed to diversify the range of issues they could deal with.
Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, said, “This is at a time when HMIC recognises policing is under significant stress from rising demand, and reported crime that is increasingly complex with force budgets due to fall in real terms over the next three years.” Policing Minister, Nick Hurd, responded saying that “The government recognises that demand on the police is changing and we are sensitive to the pressures they face.”
Metropolitan Police Chief warns funding cuts will harm police response to violent crime
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick gave evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee this week where she said that the potential loss of up to 3,000 officers in London would make it harder for the Force to response to violent crime and prevent extremism. She highlighted that there had been 114 homicides in London so far this year and that all of the 25 teenage homicide victims were from African-Caribbean or Asian ethnicities. Ms Dick said that if given extra funding she would put it into intelligence and police presence on the streets.
Ms Dick said, “I want to continue to bear down on violent crime in all its forms: sex offences, domestic violence, street crime and terrorism […] Without more funding quite soon […] I am really concerned that we won’t be able to respond to what I anticipate will be one of the logical conclusions of the counter-terrorism review, which is that we need to do more through neighbourhood policing to stop people from becoming violent extremists”. She also noted that “We’ll have to be really ruthless about some demands.”