In what represents a significant change of Government policy and a U-turn on the Conservatives’ election manifesto promises, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a significant funding increase for the NHS paid for at least partially by tax increases.
iNews has reported that the Government is subsequently facing increased pressure to raise spending across other departments including the MoD, but Chancellor Philip Hammond has told the Cabinet that the increase in health funding actually limits the chance of increasing spending in other areas.
There have been challenges raised regarding the impact of Brexit on defence this week, as EU Brexit Chief Michel Barnier said that the UK could be shut out of key EU security and policing databases and initiatives, as reported in The Times. The Head of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, subsequently intervened in the debate saying that his organisation’s ability to cooperate fully with its European partners was “critical” and “saved lives.”
- DPF evidence used in Defence Select Committee report on defence review
- Conservative MP derails Government-supported bill protecting police dogs
- Prime Minister questions UK’s Tier one military status
- Government introduces new Offensive Weapons bill
- Under five percent of burglaries and robberies are solved in England
- New army chief makes first speech warning forces to prepare for war
DPF evidence used in Defence Select Committee report on defence review
Evidence submitted by the DPF to the Defence Select Committee has been referenced in its report: Beyond 2 per cent: A preliminary report on the Modernising Defence Programme, published today. This report looks into the MoD’s Modernising Defence Programme, abbreviated in the report to MDP, which will review of defence priorities and recommended spending in light of the Department’s £20bn financial “black hole,” stemming from ongoing budget cuts and a devalued pound.
The report calls for government spending on defence to be increased from 2.1 percent GDP to 3 percent GDP, which would cost an additional £20bn approximately. This would match UK defence spending in the Nineties. The UK is currently one of only five NATO members to meet its minimum defence spending requirements of 2 per cent of GDP, which key members such as the US is now arguing is itself too little. The report considers it imperative that the review sets out a “firm and sustainable” funding settlement to ensure long-term strategic and financial stability. It highlights the importance of this through the backdrop of increasing challenges from terrorism, extremism, cyber-warfare and the erosion of the rules-based international order.
The report praised Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who took up the role in November, for separating out defence from the National Security Capability Review (NSCR) after it became apparent that the NSCR would be “fiscally neutral.” It identified a “menu” of military requirements, including, greater anti-submarine warfare capacity; the creation of a Royal Navy carrier group capable of protecting the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers without depending on other states; the maintenance of the target strength of the regular Army at a minimum of 82,000 personnel; and a layered air defence system to protect the war-fighting division.
A MoD spokesman said: “The UK maintains the biggest defence budget in Europe, we have been clear we will continue to exceed NATO's two per cent spending target.” However, HM Treasury will now be under increased pressure from the MOD and other departments struggling to meet their budget requirements considering the NHS has just received a £20bn annual boost.
The DPF was one of 27 stakeholders to make a submission to the inquiry and its evidence (which can be found here) was footnoted in the report in its consideration of whether defence should have been separated out from the NSCR. The DPF’s point had support from other stakeholders including Plymouth City Council, which has responsibility for the MDP-guarded HMNB Devonport. The footnote supported: “Written evidence submissions also varied on this issue, some supporting the view that a holistic and coordinated approach should be preferred, while others considered that there are particular circumstances where a separation is justified.”
The DPF’s submission answered most of the questions put to the public by the Committee. It outlined the unique and important role the MDP plays in protecting the UK’s defence infrastructure and the unparalleled set of skills officers belonging to the force have to contribute to the security of MoD assets and their surrounding environments. It highlighted the increased threats posed by domestic terrorism and the willingness of extremists to “target heavily protected sites” making the MDP’s protection of such sites imperative. It calls for the “safeguarding whatever assets, personnel and materiel is held by the Armed Forces now and in the future” and it advocates “further increases in defence spending” including for the policing and security of MoD establishments.”
The DPF submitted complementary evidence to the MoD’s consultation on the Modernising Defence Programme, which will feed into the Department’s review along with the Defence Select Committee’s report. To raise the profile of this evidence further, the DPF forwarded its submissions to key parliamentary supporters, such as Gerald Jones, Labour’s Shadow Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, to raise it with the Defence Secretary. Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Liberal Democrats defence spokesperson in the Lords did so. The MoD is due to announce its headline findings of the Modernising Defence Programme ahead of the NATO Summit starting on 11thJuly, after which the DPF will host a drop-in event in the Houses of Parliament to further brief key stakeholders on the concerns of the MDP and its interpretation of the announcement.
Conservative MP derails Government-supported bill protecting police dogs
Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope objected to the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, thereby derailing them, in protest at the parliamentary process governing private members bills, the BBC has reported. The Bill would have amended the 2006 Animal Welfare Act to address critics’ concerns that the Bill enabled defendants to justify using physical force against an animal in self-defence. Sir Oliver Heald, who tabled the Bill, expressed his disappointment at the result but said he was “hopeful” at the prospect of the Bill’s return to the Commons on 6thJuly.
The Bill had been given the Government backing from Defra Secretary Michael Gove, who is currently campaigning for improved animal welfare standards in his own Department. Gove said: ““This government is continuing to raise the bar on animal welfare, whether it be for our beloved pets, brave service animals or on farms.”
The Bill has been dubbed “Finn’s law” after a German Shepherd police dog, now retired, who was stabbed in the chest and head in October 2016 when protecting his handler against a suspect. Finn had kept hold of the suspect until reinforcements arrived, and survived after receiving surgery.
This Bill is still likely to progress through Parliament and become law, which will empower the dogs working with MDP officers. In response to Sir Chris’ objection to numerous private members’ bills, the Government is trying to progress the Bills through other means such as adding them to Bills currently going through parliament, or by finding time to hear them again.
Prime Minister questions UK’s Tier one military status
The Financial Timeshas reported that Prime Minister Theresa May has told Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to rethink what capabilities are required of a modern military force and prioritise cyberwarfare capabilities in light of growing threats from hostile states such as Russia. She apparently questioned the value of Britain maintaining its role among the world’s military elite, which has sent “shockwaves” through the MoD, with one source saying that people “had their head in their hands” on hearing the news. This contribution from Mrs May risks hampering the MoD’s work on the Modernising Defence Programme which has been ongoing since January and is due to announce headline findings in the next week or two.
Downing Street has denied the story, saying, “It is categorically untrue to suggest that the UK’s current position as a leading defence nation is somehow in question.” It comes as the Government is struggling to control public sector spending and has U-turned on election manifesto pledges not to raise taxes. This conflicts with pressure from NATO allies such as the US calling for increased defence spending from the UK, and the MoD having a cash shortfall of £20bn over the next 10 years.
This comes quite late in the review of defence priorities, very soon before the NATO Summit being held on 11thand 12thJuly and US President Donald Trump’s visit to the UK, and so the Prime Minister is unlikely to publicly vocalise such concerns. The MoD is therefore unlikely to make substantial changes to the Modernising Defence Programme beyond formally defining what it is to be a Tier One military force.
Government introduces new Offensive Weapons bill
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has introduced an Offensive Weapons Bill as part of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. Violent crime has been increasing since 2014 and has soared in the year to March 2017 by 18 percent, with a spike in murders across the UK and concentrated in London. The Government has previously denied that the increase in serious violent crime is a result of cuts to policing but has dedicated £40 million to its strategy addressing it. Meanwhile, police chiefs have questioned this, with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick saying that it was “naïve” to think that the increase in crime is not related to public sector cuts.
The legislation outlaws the delivery of knives and corrosives bought online to residential addresses; the selling of knives and corrosives to under-18s and their possession in schools; possessing corrosives in public spaces; and the possession of flick knives, gravity knives, knuckledusters, death stars, and high energy and rapid firing rifles and devices. Javid said: “It is totally wrong that young people are able to get their hands on dangerous weapons such as knives and harmful acids. That is why we are making the laws around this even tighter.” Javid said that this legislation shows his “support to police officers” as it empowers police to seize all illegal weapons that are found.
Under five percent of burglaries and robberies are solved in England
The Times has analysed police figures and found a significant decline in the proportion of robberies and burglaries being solved. only four percent of robberies were solved in England and Wales in 2017, a decline from nine percent in 2013, and the rate of detecting burglaries declined from six to three percent in the same period. The proportion of offenders being caught and punished has halved over the past five years to nine percent. Police in over 1,000 of the neighbourhoods which experienced 30 or more crimes failed to apprehend a single suspect. London had a particularly poor record of solving less than four percent of all domestic burglaries.
These records come as the number of officers in England and Wales are at their lowest level since the late 1980s. A government document leaked in April warned that offenders have been “encouraged” by a fall in police numbers and prosecution rates. High-performing forces attributed their relative success to having police patrolling local communities.
London’s record will be impacted by the Metropolitan Police’s announcement last year that they would not investigate some low-level crime in a bid to meet cost-saving targets. As the material effects of police cuts become harder for the Government to ignore, the Home Secretary will be under increased pressure to prove his support for police and provide material resources for them. However, this is at odds with the Government’s waning attempts to keep public sector costs down.
New army chief makes first speech warning forces to prepare for war
The Chief of General Staff in the British Army, General Mark Carleton-Smith, has used his first public speech in his new role to highlight the threat of cyberwarfare, The Guardian has reported. Speaking at a conference hosted by defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, Gen Carleton-Smith questioned whether technology might eventually trump terrain, and said that he wanted to “exploit the emerging opportunities in autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence.” Gen Carleton-Smith took up his new role this month having been a Commander of Task Force Helmand and ex-Special Forces. He said that the UK’s armed forces needed “a more proactive, threat-based approach to our capability and planning.