The main UK news this week has been the calling of a surprise general election. The Guardian reports that Theresa May stunned Westminster by calling a snap general election for 8th June that she hopes will turn her party’s clear lead in the opinion polls into a healthy parliamentary majority and secure her Conservative vision for Brexit. The Prime Minister made an unscheduled statement on Tuesday morning from behind a lectern outside 10 Downing Street, in which she recanted her repeated promise not to go to the polls before 2020. She accused opposition parties of trying to jeopardise her government’s preparations for exiting the EU – while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded by saying he would welcome the opportunity to fight an election opposing Tory austerity. The following day, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of activating a clause in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 – which mandates that elections are held every five years – which allows elections to be brought forward if two thirds of MPs support such a move.
Supporters of the Prime Minister said she would use the election to crush dissent over Brexit, with one projection by election expert Michael Thrasher suggesting she could secure a majority of 140 on the basis of current polls. His estimate suggests the number of Tory MPs could rise from 331 to 395, with Labour potentially slumping from 229 to 164.
The Plymouth Herald reports that, speaking after the election announcement, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said that the election would not destabalise the UK’s defence budget or any of the key equipment programmes. He added “A new mandate for the full five-year term will give us the certainty and stability we need to project our country internationally and do what we can to strengthen security.”
As a result of the election, parliament will be dissolved on 3rd May, although actual business may cease prior to this. Following the election, the Prime Minister will appoint his or her ministerial team – including those responsible for defence matters. Parliament will then return to swear in MPs, with the formal state opening of parliament likely to take place on 14th or 21st June.
Defence is unlikely to play a prominent role in this election: Brexit, the NHS and the stability of government will instead be the touchstone issues. However, both leading parties are likely to include a pledge to maintain defence spending at two percent of GDP (i.e. the NATO commitment) in their manifestos. Both parties are also likely to maintain a commitment to sustaining and renewing the Trident system, although it is probable that Labour will leave themselves some flexibility to reduce the number of planed submarines from four to three. Although there has been significant prompting from the right of the Conservative Party for Theresa May to abandon the policy of spending 0.7% of GDP in international aid and instead spend the money on defence, there is significant pressure on the Prime Minister to retain the international aid target.
It is an open question as to how the election will impact upon the SNP’s bid for a second referendum. Arguably, a strong showing will further boost its claim for a new mandate for a referendum. However, in the likely event of a Conservative victory, it seems improbable that Theresa May will allow it to take place before Brexit, in line with her previous statements.
· Armed officers being trained and equipped to halt lorry-borne terrorist attacks
· Pension reviewer says working to 68 ‘too much to bear’
· Armed officers ‘may not have been able to prevent Westminster attack’
· New Met chief names knife and gun crime as top priority
· Police officers injured in explosion
· Lead appointed for Trident renewal programme
· MoD fails to find evidence of SAS cover-up
Armed officers being trained and equipped to halt lorry-borne terrorist attacks
The Daily Telegraph reports that counterterrorism police have undergone specialist training to prepare them to take out lorry drivers who are using their vehicles as weapons. Armed officers have also been issued with high powered ammunition capable of penetrating armoured glass in a bid to ensure they can respond to the changing tactics of ISIS-inspired terrorists.
Simon Chesterman, who is the National Police Chief's Council lead on armed policing said that, following the recent vehicle attacks, training had been changed and officers were now told to shoot the driver in the cab where necessary. Mr Chesterman said “It used to be that within our policy we used to talk about not shooting a moving vehicle, that was because of the danger we might cause if we fired at a driver then clearly we might cause a real problem with the vehicle… But if the vehicle is being used as a weapon in the first place there aren't many tactics available in relation to stopping it, especially if it is a very large lorry. So driving a vehicle in front of it for example is not going to stop it so you need to shoot the driver.” Mr Chesterman said shooting a driver through a windscreen presented a challenge for snipers because glass could deflect bullets. But he said high powered .556 calibre ammunition had been issued to officers in Armed Response Vehicles, which was capable of penetrating glass and body armour.
The newspaper reports that the number of firearms officers is set to rise to about 7,000 nationally, but those numbers will be boosted by the 3,500 attached to non-geographical forces – the MDP, BTP, the CNC and the National Crime Agency.
Given the difficulty in obtaining guns and explosives in the UK, vehicle-based attacks are at risk of becoming the default option for a wide range of extremists – including those returning from Iraq and Syria as the conventional phase of the war against ISIS draws to a close. The Federation has contacted journalists reporting on the announcement in order to provide assistance and comment for future news stories.
Armed officers ‘may not have been able to prevent Westminster attack’
AOL News reports that an armed police officer could not necessarily have intervened to stop the Westminster terror attacker earlier, the new Metropolitan Police chief has said. Cressida Dick said it would be inappropriate to comment extensively on “what ifs” while reviews into the attack four weeks ago continue, but “we need to look at the lessons from what happened”. The incoming commissioner joined presenter Nick Ferrari on Leading Britain's Conversation (LBC) radio, who asked her why the first point of contact with the terrorist was not an armed officer.
In one of her first interviews in her new role, Ms Dick said: “There were several armed officers within the vicinity, several armed officers protecting Parliament, we did protect Parliament.” She added “I don't think we can be certain, but let's see what all the reviews say, but I really don't think we can be certain that an armed officer would necessarily have been able to protect themselves or to intervene earlier.”
Ms Dick's first day as the new Scotland Yard chief saw her attend the funeral of murdered PC Palmer, 48, a husband and father. Looking forward, she said: “We need to be alert, and on the other hand I don't think people need to be going around alarmed all the time.”
Pension reviewer says working to 68 ‘too much to bear’
The Evening Standard reports that working beyond the age of 68 would be too much for the current generation “to bear”, the Government’s pensions expert has said. With some women already facing an eight-year rise in the state pension age since they began their working lives, pushing the age limit to 69 or 70 could lead to burn-out, said John Cridland (formerly the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry). The stark message from the Government’s independent reviewer of the state pension age comes as ministers prepare to announce the UK’s new retirement age: a decision had been expected on 5th May, but this could be subject to change in light of the announcement of the snap General Election.
Although Mr Cridland is not against a rise beyond 68 in the future, he said those in their late thirties to sixties — the so-called Baby Boomers and Generation X — should not be expected to cope with rapid change. “The question becomes what roles can older workers do,” he added”. “You don’t see many people in their sixties on a London construction site or on a car plant line”. Mr Cridland’s study, Smoothing The Transition, is one of two reports the Government must assess before deciding on the new state pension age. He suggests the Department for Work and Pensions make the retirement age 68 in 2039 — seven years earlier than the Government originally planned. The other report by the Government Actuary’s Department report suggests a scenario in which the pension age would rise from 69 to 70 in the 2050s.
Mr Cridland’s comments about the inability of many people in physically demanding positions to carry on until 68 undermines the Government’s case for excluding MDP officers from being able to retire at 60 and instead committing to a pension age three years below state pension age (meaning MDP officers could be expected to work into their late 60s if the state pension age rises). In response to Mr Cridland’s comments, we sent a letter to the “I” newspaper highlighting the circumstances facing MDP officers, and calling for action on the issue.
New Met chief names knife and gun crime as top priority
The Daily Telegraph reports that tackling gun and knife crime will be the top priority of the Metropolitan Police, the Force's new chief has said. Commissioner Cressida Dick said recent suggestions gun and knife crime in London were on the increase were a “huge concern”. Ms Dick, the force's first female Commissioner, said she would be prepared to support the increased use of controversial stop and search powers to tackle the problem. She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “If it is the case that gun crime and knife crime are going up, that is of huge concern to me and it will mark out my commissionership trying to bear down on violence in general and those two crimes in particular.”
Her comments came after the Met issued figures last week showing a 42 per cent rise in gun crime over the past year, while knife crime was up 24 per cent. During her interview, she also highlighted the funding cuts the Met had recently endured, and the resultant need to make “choices” with regards to allocating resources for “meaningless activity”. However, she denied earlier reports that the Force no longer investigated crimes such as burglaries.
A significant new drive to tackle knife and gun crime will require a robust armed policing presence in support. Given the current demands on the MDP, it is vital that they are protected from any further cuts in strength.
Police officers injured in explosion
The Daily Telegraph reports that man suffered serious burns and a police officer was injured in an explosion at a residential property. Police, fire and ambulance services attended an address in Stapleton Hall Road, near Finsbury Park, north-east London, following a “localised explosion” at around midday on Wednesday.
It is understood that bailiffs were at the property when the officers arrived. Scotland Yard said: “Officers attended the location and, as they arrived at around midday, there was a localised explosion within the property.” They added “At this early stage, police are aware of two people injured. One man has sustained serious burns and a police officer sustained an arm injury. We await further details.” The incident is not being treated as terrorism-related.
Lead appointed for Trident renewal programme
The Daily Telegraph reports that Treasury troubleshooter has been brought in to run Britain’s military nuclear programmes with a remit to keep the Trident replacement submarine project on track. Civil servant Julian Kelly will join the MoD in May in the new position of Director General Nuclear, where he will be responsible for Britain’s nuclear submarines, nuclear warheads and day-to-day policy. A key task will be working with the soon-to-be appointed head of the Submarine Delivery Authority (SDA), an arm’s-length body created to ensure the Dreadnought programme meets its target.
Mr Kelly’s current role is Director General of Public Spending and Finance at the Treasury. In this position he was closely involved in setting up SDA, reflecting how concerned the Treasury is about the potential for costs at the Dreadnought submarine programme to spin out of control.
It had previously been indicated by the MoD that it was seeking to employ someone from the private sector to oversee the Trident renewal project. It is thought that Mr Kelly’s salary of £200,000 was insufficient to attract a qualified candidate from outside the public sector, with a number of senior figures from management consultancies and industry declining to apply.
MoD fails to find evidence of SAS cover-up
The Daily Mail reports that a multi-million-pound investigation into claims that the SAS covered up war crimes failed to find any evidence. Military police launched the probe – which cost £6 million, according to defence sources – after being tipped off that SAS soldiers had doctored official reports and used fake photographs in an attempt to hide civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The investigation was launched last year into claims that SAS soldiers had placed pistols and rifles known to be used by the Taliban near dead civilians to make them look like enemy fighters – a practice known as ‘drop weapons’. However, not a single instance of drop weapons being used was revealed by the investigation.
Former British commander in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp criticised the Royal Military Police (RMP), saying: “It is not their job to waste vast sums of taxpayers’ money to hound our bravest troops on the basis of flimsy allegations.” MoD sources confirmed to the newspaper that the probe was dropped because the allegation about the SAS’s use of drop weapons could not be substantiated.