Last week’s main UK defence and security news was the the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s new leader, and its potential implications for defence and security. The Guardian reports that, at his leadership campaign rallies, Mr Corbyn often prefaced his policy positions by saying they were up for debate, not only in the Shadow Cabinet and Parliamentary Labour Party but also the Party at large. It is hard, however, to see him instruct Labour MPs to do anything other than voting against the renewal of the £80bn Trident nuclear programme in Parliament, reversing existing party policy, even though a significant number of MPs will defy his wishes. With the SNP also voting against Trident, the outcome of the said vote will be tighter than if one of Mr Corbyn’s rivals had been elected. However, given universal support for the programme amongst Conservative MPs, it would be able to pass even without Labour support.
There is more scope for debate on Labour’s position on membership of NATO, with Mr Corbyn initially sounding sceptical, but adopting a more nuanced position over the course of the leadership campaign. However, one of his first big foreign policy tests in the House of Commons will be the Government’s planned vote on RAF airstrikes in Syria. Again, it is hard to envisage Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party being instructed by him to do anything other than vote against the plan, given that he has repeatedly said bombing will not help resolve the crisis. But it is likely that a significant number of Labour MPs would rebel against this stance – almost certainly enough to override votes against bombing by Conservative backbenchers. In relation to defence more broadly, Mr Corbyn has also questioned the need for the UK to possess an Armed Forces that is able to project power globally.
In terms of the new Shadow Cabinet, the Shadow Defence Sectary portfolio has – after some difficulty in finding a willing candidate, according to Sky News – been passed to Maria Eagle, MP for Garston and Halewood. She has previously held roles as a Minister at the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions. Under former Labour Leader Ed Miliband, she was at various times Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Environment Secretary and Shadow Transport Secretary.
Parliament has now risen for the summer conference season, and will return on 12 October. The conferences are scheduled for the following dates and locations:
· Liberal Democrats: Saturday 19 September – Wednesday 23 September, Bournemouth International Centre
· Labour: Sunday 27 September – Wednesday 30 September, The Brighton Centre
· Conservative: Saturday 4 October – Wednesday 7 October, Manchester Central
· SNP: Thursday 15 October – Saturday 17 October, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre
· Questions on MDP disciplinary proceedings and nuclear security answered in the House of Commons
· Around 330 Islamic State fighters killed in RAF strikes, claims Government
· MoD forced to release report on failings behind Marine A killing
· MoD tests defences against ‘high street’ drone attack
Questions on MDP disciplinary proceedings and nuclear security answered in the House of Commons
This week in the House of Commons, Paul Flynn MP (Newport West) (Lab) asked the Defence Secretary what the conclusions were of the MDP Professional Standards investigation into disciplinary matters relating to MDP officers based at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Burghfield; and if he would place a copy of that investigation report in the (House of Commons) Library.
Responding for the Defence Secretary, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster MP said that the misconduct process relating to MDP officers based at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield has not yet been fully concluded. However, he added that once completed, a report will be prepared by the Chief Constable and submitted to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The next day, Mr Flynn also had two further questions answered. The first inquired as to which offices in the MoD are responsible for maintaining and monitoring nuclear security at defence sites.
Responding for the MoD, Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP stated that there are a number of organisations within the MoD that have responsibility for maintaining and monitoring nuclear security at defence sites: MoD Head Office sets security policy for defence including the requirements for nuclear security; the responsibility for the delivery of nuclear security at defence nuclear sites rests with the Head of Establishment; and nuclear security assurance (monitoring) is delivered through self-assurance by the defence nuclear site. He added that independent assurance is provided through the Principal Security Advisors to Front Line Commands and the Defence Equipment and Support organisation and through MOD Head Office.
Finally, Mr Flynn asked how many reportable nuclear security incidents at defence sites the Minister had been notified of in the financial years (a) 2013-14 and (b) 2014-15.
Again responding for the Government, Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP stated that there were no incidents of unauthorised access to nuclear weapons and material, and that Defence Ministers were notified of four security incidents in 2013-14 and three security incidents in 2014-15 at defence nuclear sites.
Around 330 Islamic State fighters killed in RAF strikes, claims Government
The BBC reports that the Defence Secretary has said that about 330 fighters from the Islamic State group are estimated to have been killed as a result of RAF air strikes in Iraq. Michael Fallon said the figure was “highly approximate”, partly because there were no UK troops on the ground to confirm the impact of the campaign. He also said ministers did not believe the action – which began in Iraq a year ago – had caused civilian casualties. He was responding to a parliamentary question from Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The Government is expected to draw up proposals within the next few weeks for missile attacks in Syria against the Islamic State. In August, two British Islamic State jihadists – Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, 21, and Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen – were killed by an RAF drone strike in Raqqa, Syria. The “act of self-defence” was lawful, despite MPs previously ruling out UK military action in Syria, the Prime Minister said, as Khan had been plotting “barbaric” attacks on UK soil. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the drone attacks were “legally questionable” and called for a “rapid political development” as a way to end the violence in Syria.
Royal Navy frigate to deploy as campaign against people-smugglers gathers pace
The Times reports that Britain will offer a warship with 200 sailors and Royal Marines for Europe’s first offensive mission against people smugglers in Libya who are in part driving the migrant crisis. HMS Richmond, a Type-23 frigate, equipped with a Lynx helicopter and surveillance drone, is set to assist the operation in international waters between North Africa and the Italian coast from next month until mid-December. A second Royal Navy vessel, which is already helping to stop refugees and migrants from drowning as they try to make the journey to Europe in rickety boats, will also stay for longer as the EU mission prepares to move into a second, more combative phase. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said that Britain was determined to tackle at source the migrant crisis gripping Europe. He added: “We will not stand by and let this smuggling trade escalate. We will confront this criminal activity which risks the lives of innocent people every day.”
Risk of military timidity highlighted by Chief of Defence Staff
The Daily Telegraph reports that the head of the Armed Forces has suggested that Parliament’s reluctance to authorise military action overseas in places like Syria, coupled with regular legal challenges against troops’ conduct, could embolden aggressive states. Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton said that Britain was facing “ever greater constraints on our freedom to use force”, that could encourage enemies. He said if the world believed Britain was now only prepared to use its forces in a case of national survival, then it would lose its power to deter others. He said the problem was faced not just by Britain, but by other Western powers. Sir Nicholas told the Chatham House think tank that many of the threats that Britain faces “are not existential to our survival as a nation in the classic physical sense… but they are existential to our way of life; to our prosperity, our national values, our individual liberty and to our sense of our nation’s place in the world.”
MoD forced to release report on failings behind Marine A killing
The Daily Telegraph reports that ministers are being forced to reveal a secret report expected to show serious command failings in the run up to a Royal Marine shooting dead a Taliban captive in Afghanistan. Bowing to allegations of a cover-up, the MoD said it would release the internal review that found a series of shortcomings by Sgt Alexander Blackman’s chain of command. Campaigners seeking the release of Blackman claim these put him under intolerable pressure leading him to snap and shoot dead the badly wounded fighter during a 2011 patrol in Helmand. Claire Blackman, his wife, told The Daily Telegraph the MoD’s decision to release the report to the legal team fighting to have his case reviewed was “a great step forward”.
The internal review is now expected to form the basis of an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to have his case looked at again. The Daily Mail has launched a fighting fund to support the costs of his appeal. Blackman, 41, was given a life sentence at court martial, where he was identified only as Marine A, and told he must serve at least eight years in prison. He was captured on helmet camera footage shooting the man in the chest at point blank range.
MoD tests defences against 'high street' drones attack
The Daily Mail reports the MoD is testing a number of devices which are designed to prevent jihadis using commercially available drones in a terror attack. Experts fear such drones, which are easily available and cost about £500, could be used to deliver a poisonous fluid or gas. Another concern is that a drone, or drones, could be flown into the engine of a passenger jet, causing an explosion. Defence officials reportedly told the newspaper that a British-designed system called AUDS – Anti Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Defence System – was trialled in Scotland earlier this year and proved effective against remote-controlled drones and autonomous drones which follow pre-programmed flight paths. The manufacturers of AUDS claim it takes between 10 and 15 seconds to target and disrupt multiple drones being flown in a ‘swarm attack’. The technology has been designed to intercept civilian grade mini-drones and would not affect commercial or military aircraft, which use encrypted communications. The MoD and the Civil Aviation Authority have been alerted to the threat following several reports of drones being flown over nuclear power stations and military bases in France.
Future Soldier System unveiled
The Daily Telegraph reports that British soldiers of the future will wear Google glass-style visors with head-up displays, body armour packed with sensors and carry smartphone-type computers onto the battlefield, according to a MoD vision of battledress in the next decade. Ross Jones, programme manager for close combat systems at the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory said the Future Soldier Vision provides defence chiefs and industry “with an aim point for what the soldier could look like a decade from now”. He added: “It provides a platform to challenge what this future could be and how industry and academia could help the MoD to make it a reality.”