This week’s main UK defence and security news has been the announcement by David Cameron that an RAF Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle has killed two British members of the Islamic State group in Syria. The Daily Telegraph reports that the attack was carried out last month after security services uncovered a bid to stage a terrorist attack in the UK. The Prime Minister said that it is the first time UK forces have directed a targeted attack against one of its own citizens when Britain is not at war. It also marks the first British military action in Syria and Mr Cameron made it clear to parliament that UK forces are now prepared to carry out more strikes in Syria, Iraq and Libya against specific targets. The Prime Minister authorised the strike without the approval of parliament, but said that it did not require a vote because it was an act of “self-defence” for which there was a “clear legal basis”. Jeremy Corbyn, who seems almost certain to be Labour’s next leader, said bombing Syria would “kill many people” and may not defeat Islamic State.
The Guardian reports that unmanned RAF aerial vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles have been patrolling the skies over Syria for months, seeking to target British jihadis on a “kill list” drawn up by senior ministers on the UK National Security Council shortly after the election. The Guardian understands that the Government, which had previously said that unarmed RAF drones were patrolling the skies of Syria to gather intelligence on Islamic State targets, approved the arming of the drones following the May general election.
The incident makes it seem more likely that this autumn will see a vote in the House of Commons on further military action against Islamic State in Syria. The Independent reports that the Government will again ask MPs for consent to take military action in Syria, despite parliament’s previous rejection of the policy in 2013. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the circumstances in the country had changed and that MPs could be made to vote on the issue if the Government could be sure it would win. Whilst the election of anti-war Jeremy Corbyn had previously been expected to end any hope of parliamentary approval for such an operation, it is now increasingly apparent that the number of Labour MPs who would be willing to rebel against him in any vote on action would override the number of Conservatives who would vote against strikes.
Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
This week has seen the beginning of a brief two-week stint of work at the House of Commons prior to the party conference season. Amongst the written questions answered by the Government has been one tabled by Jeremy Lefroy, Labour MP for Stafford. He asked the Defence Secretary whether discussions between his department and the Cabinet Office on MDP pension arrangements have concluded. Responding for the Defence Secretary, Mark Lancaster MP, the Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, said that discussions between the MoD and the Cabinet Office in respect of MDP pension arrangements concluded earlier this year, with the Government offering officers an effective pension age which was a maximum of three years below state pension age as part of a package of revised terms and conditions of service. However, Mr Lancaster said that the offer had since been rejected, and that further discussions are now in progress between officials and the DPF.
Jeremy Lefroy MP was in attendance at the DPF's Westminster event in July of this year, and his tabling of a question concerning the MDP so soon after parliament's return shows that the issues we raised with him left a lasting impression. The question also ensures the issue of MDP pensions remains firmly under parliamentary scrutiny.
Inquiry launched into defence spending
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Defence Select Committee is to quiz ministers over suggestions the Government has resorted to creative accountancy and “shifting the goalposts” to meet NATO's two per cent of GDP defence spending pledge. Analysis by the Royal United Services Institute has found that the MoD had been forced to make significant “accounting rule changes” to hit the target, while UKIP said the new plans were “little more than creative accounting”. Julian Lewis MP, chairman of the committee, said: “We will be starting out with an open mind, but we will be asking the question whether we think the goalposts have been shifted.” The inquiry will also look at whether the two per cent figure is enough to protect the UK.
Army launches crackdown on bullying and harassment
The BBC reports that the head of the Army is bringing in a new code of conduct to crack down on bullying and sexual harassment. General Sir Nicholas Carter said his institution should “accept everyone in an inclusive way”. He has told hundreds of men and women at Sandhurst to project a “no tolerance” message against prejudice. A recent survey suggested almost 40 per cent of servicewomen had received unwanted comments of a sexual nature in the past year. The report, based on a survey of 7,000 soldiers and commissioned by the Army, also found 13 per cent of women questioned had had “a particularly upsetting experience”.
General Carter told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Army recognised “the world was moving on, and the Army had to move with it”. Asked if he was trying to turn the Army into a “politically correct brigade”, he said: “No, I'm not arguing for political correctness, what I'm arguing for is to live by our values and standards and to accept everyone in an inclusive way.”
Home Secretary warns over reduced police budgets
The Guardian reports that the Home Secretary has warned that police staff and volunteers should be given stronger powers so they can take over roles currently performed by uniformed constables as forces brace themselves for a new round of deep spending cuts. Theresa May announced her plan to give chief constables much greater flexibility in the way they use their officers and staff after warning forces that reduced police budgets will likely mean even fewer police officers. Speaking at the police superintendents’ annual conference, Mrs May told police leaders not to succumb to the temptation of scaremongering over the impact of the next wave of spending cuts.
Mrs May said: “I have always been straight with you that budgets will fall further and savings will have to be made in policing as elsewhere in Government.” She added: “This is the reality for which chief constables and police and crime commissioners have planned, and which the public accepts. We must have a grown-up, frank conversation about what is possible, what is necessary, and – most important of all – where we can make policing better for the public and for the officers and staff who fight crime on our behalf every day and night.” The Home Secretary also confirmed that she will shortly publish proposals for a much closer relationship between police forces and local fire and rescue services to make savings, cut crime and reduce fires.
UK Government defence deals subject to sweeping review
The Financial Times reports that rules on the profits arms companies can make on more than £8bn of contracts with the Government each year will be renegotiated, in one of the most sweeping reviews of defence acquisition for decades. The new Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) – set up by the MoD in January as an independent regulatory body – will announce at the end of this month that it will scrap existing guidelines, which have been in place unchanged since 1968. These cover all defence contracts between the Government and single companies, and were created to try to ensure fairness in the absence of market competition. The current formula, which allows for a margin of 10.6 per cent, is calculated based on an average of profits earned by a selection of UK listed businesses. It also permits contractors to charge significant further “contingency” costs.
Thousands may sue MoD over anti-malaria drug
The Daily Express reports that soldiers who say their lives have been shattered by anti-malaria drug Lariam are preparing to sue the MoD. It was claimed that “thousands” of veterans could eventually join the civil action. It follows the release of a statement by the MoD claiming that they have only been carrying out medical screening of soldiers since 2013. The statement, released last month, also declared that Lariam is not the MoD’s “first choice of anti-malarial”, though this claim was later overturned by the MoD and the statement branded “misleading”. The civil action is being led, separately, by two solicitors’ firms specialising in military-based litigation, Bolt Burdon Kemp and Irwin Mitchell.
MoD spending £120,000 on public and media relations
The Daily Mail reports that the MoD is spending £210,000 a day boosting its public image as part of a £230million PR operation that includes the running of more than one hundred Twitter accounts. The revelation comes as military chiefs continue to implement the government's 10-year programme to cut the size of the Army. Former Conservative MP and Army colonel Patrick Mercer said the Government had “savaged” the military's budget and accused MoD chiefs of wasting desperately needed resources. He added: “The money that we have should be spent on defending the country, not on gossip.” The MoD has defended the amount it spends on PR. A spokesman said: “Many of the 500 posts are fulfilled by military personnel,” adding “Marketing spend has been cut considerably and represents less than 0.25 per cent of the defence budget.”
Royal Navy submarine damages trawler
The Guardian reports that a British submarine damaged a fishing trawler it dragged through the Irish Sea, the MoD has confirmed. The Karen was pulled at 10 knots after the sub snagged in its fishing nets 18 miles from Ardglass on the south-east shore of Northern Ireland in April. The trawler was badly damaged, but the crew escaped unharmed. MoD minister Penny Mordaunt said: “The Royal Navy has now confirmed that a UK submarine was, in fact, responsible for snagging the Karen’s nets. The incident, the delay in identifying and addressing the events on that day, and their consequences are deeply regretted.”