It has been confirmed this week that defence spending will be taken out of the National Security Capability Review (led by National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill) and will be investigated separately by the MoD, in what will be called the Modernising Defence Programme. This is considered a victory for new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who intends to use the time to make a case for increased defence spending.
The announcement the review is to be split comes after mounting pressure on the Government from within the Conservative Party to address the £20bn shortfall in defence spending, caused by a range of issues including increased threats to the UK and because of the significant impact of the decreased value of the pound on MoD procurement
The Office of National Statistics published statistics today showing a further increase in the rates of reported violent crime and sexual offences in the year to September 2017. Figures from 44 forces across England and Wales show that robbery has increased 29 percent on the year, sex offences have increased 23 percent, there has been a 21 percent increase in knife crime and a 20 percent increase in violent crime. However, figures produced from the Crime Survey suggest actual crime rates continue to decrease.
Head of Army warns UK could not defend itself against Russia
The BBC has reported on a speech by the Army’s Chief of General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, at an event hosted by defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Gen Sir Nick said that investment in defence is necessary for the UK to be able to defend itself against an increasingly aggressive Russia and “fight the war we might have to fight.” He referred to the threat of unorthodox, hybrid warfare spanning conventional and cyberattack and said, “our ability to pre-empt or respond to threats will be eroded if we don’t keep up with our adversaries” and “we cannot afford to sit back.”
Gen Sir Nick noted that Russia had been simulating attacks on Europe, with its enhanced military and cyber warfare capabilities creating what Gen Sir Nick called “an eye-watering quantity of capability,” which is now “not thousands of miles away but on Europe’s doorstep.” He highlighted that Russia had demonstrated its long-range missile capabilities in Syria when it launched 26 missiles 930 miles away from its target. He also said that cyber warfare was a bigger threat to the UK than terrorism.
The Times has written that in response to Russian aggression, the Army might also reverse its decision to exit Germany, Gen Sir Nick said, highlighting “the importance for a forward mounting base and therefore we are actively examining the retention of our infrastructure in Germany.” This would equate to a partial U-turn from the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review committing to withdraw all troops from and close all bases in Germany by 2020 to meet cost savings. There are currently just under 400 British troops stationed in Germany.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said the UK's £36bn annual defence budget put the country and the Government in “a position of strength.”
Conservative MP and Defence Select Committee Chair Julian Lewis said, “The choice must not be between preparing to meet new threats by cutting our ability to meet pre-existing threats. We have got to be able to do both and that can only be achieved by finding more money for defence.” He was supported by his colleague, the Conservative MP, former army officer and Defence Select Committee member Johnny Mercer, who was quoted saying, “the mantra that I have tried to spread, that our Armed Forces must only be configured – not by cost or rose-tinted view of yesteryear – but by the adversaries we are up against, must be adhered to as we try to understand what a modern, capable, contemporary military looks like fit for a global Britain.”
Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, highlighted that such warnings from a serving chief were unprecedented. Labour shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said that if Gen Sir Nick voicing concerns over funding made the Government better understand the situation, it would have been worth “making the fuss.” It has also become apparent that Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, had pre-approved the speech.
The comments of General Sir Nick Carter were part of a carefully orchestrated MoD campaign, apparently authorised by the Secretary of State, to press for additional funding. As outlined below, Gavin Williamson achieved an at least partial victory in that campaign this week.
Defence review separated from security review
After days of speculation, the Government has confirmed that the National Security Capability Review will be divided into a security review and a defence review, the latter of which will be published in five months’ time, be led by the MoD, and will review the £20bn black hole in the defence budget. This funding shortage has a range of causes, most notably an increase in the intensity and diversity of threats faced by the UK and the decrease in the value of the pound increasing the cost of international procurement. This is considered a success for new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, as it gives him more time to make his case to increase defence spending. The review will be called the Modernising Defence Programme.
Responding to the news, Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson in the House of Lords Lord Campbell said that this decision was both “necessary and inevitable” and Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said she wanted to make sure that this was not a way of “kicking defence cuts into the long grass,” but was a chance to ensure funding and capabilities matched the threats faced by the UK. Johnny Mercer, who was instrumental in a backbench Conservative campaign on defence funding, said, “when I started this I wanted to make it not possible for Government to reduce the country’s military capability or spending any further. We have achieved that. Now I want to see a positive and modern vision of what the UK Armed Forces are for.”
At the end of last week, Lord Plaistow had led a short debate on the Defence Review in the House of Lords. Last year, Lord Plaistow had called for the Strategic Defence and Security Review to be updated because “the world had become a vastly more dangerous place” and because the UK had decided to withdraw from the EU. He said that the review having to be fiscally neutral “does not make sense.” Defence Minister, Earl Howe, responded on behalf of the Government calling the National Security Capability Review “an important opportunity for the Government to conduct a thorough analysis of intensifying threats to national security” but that he could not “pre-empt the conclusion of the capability review.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said that “further work is needed in order to modernise defence […] in a sustainable and affordable way.”
The DPF is meeting with Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Lord Campbell on 1 February. We will be working to confirm what consultation/evidence processes are in place for the updated review timetable and, where appropriate, will be making submissions of written evidence. We also expect both parts of the review (national security and defence) to be subject to Defence Select Committee inquiries. We will be liaising with supportive members of the Committee and will be seeking opportunities to submit written and oral evidence.
Sir Mark Sedwill accused of stalling defence review
The Times has reported that the National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill, who is leading the National Security Capability Review (NSCR), has been accused by Whitehall sources of “frustrating” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s efforts to start a new defence review. The source was quoted saying, that Sir Mark and the rest of the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the NSCR, is “playing games with the defence of the country.” Mr Williamson had been scheduled to update the House of Commons about reports of defence spending cuts this week, but this had been cancelled, rescheduled and then postponed until next week. The source called this “shambolic” and said it led to questions over the Government’s priorities.
It was reported that Sir Mark did not want the MoD’s review of defence to also be called a review but to be called a “defence modernisation programme” until its acronym was also identified as being more commonly used for “debt management plans.” Subsequently, it will now be called the “Modernising Defence Programme” which Whitehall sources criticised for implying that the Armed Forces were out of date. They said that Number 10 “risk looking like they are playing games with the defence of this country and what the review actually is by continually trying to frustrate things over the last day or so. MPs are losing patience.”
The military could be used as a “bargaining chip” in Brexit
Senior EU diplomats have told The Sun newspaper that the UK’s Armed Forces could become “a very big bargaining chip” in Brexit negotiations. Despite a funding crisis in the MoD, the UK’s military and counter-intelligence capabilities are still regarded as the best in Europe. Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the UK would unconditionally support European defence after Brexit and ministers have already suggested that on top of the UK meeting its NATO commitments, it was also “prepared to pay into a planned £5bn EU defence fund after Brexit.”
One diplomat said that “when you talk about security and defence the British have a lot to give to us in exchange. Both sides are very much in favour of continuing cooperation.” Another said that “The UK is very strong in defence. This is definitely not about who will win or emerge stronger. It’s about making the best deal possible.” They also said that suggestions that Brexit would result in the UK’s influence in the world being significantly diminished were “exaggerated.”
Former soldier, Defence Select Committee member and Conservative MP Leo Docherty, who also led a debate in the House of Commons this week on the size and strength of the British Armed Forces, responded to the news saying, “Our military is the finest in the world, but it cannot be done on the cheap. Lest we forget that this review is response to the increased threats we face – and those threats are real – but tackling them cannot come at a cost to conventional defence.” Fellow veteran and Defence Select Committee member, Johnny Mercer MP added, “This is a key reason for No10 and No11 to stump up more cash to keep our world-beating reputation.”
Mr Docherty’s debate on the importance of increasing the size and strength of the Armed Forces in order to match the increased threats faced by the UK garnered cross-party support in the Commons, and he said “defence is not really a party political issue.” He said that the response of defence had to be “threat-based.” Defence Minister Mark Lancaster responded on behalf of the Government, providing an overview of the Modernising Defence Programme.
This news comes as Interpol put terror police across Europe on high alert this week after a truck carrying 33,500 litres of bomb-making chemicals was stolen, which was reported in the Daily Mirror. The truck was stolen in Belgium, and neighbouring countries instigated strict controls while the French, Spanish and Belgium authorities were also put on particular alert. It is believed that the thieves might have changed the registration plate of the vehicle in order to leave Belgium.
BTP – Police Scotland merger not possible in timeframe
Chief Superintendent of the British Transport Police (BTP) John McBride has said that it will not be possible to carry out a full merger of the BTP with Police Scotland by the planned deadline of April 2019, The Times has reported. He said that Police Scotland had suggested “operational integration” instead of the merge and he would inform Government officials in the near future. Ch Supt McBride said, “BTP has planned for full integration. The alternative proposal presents real challenges to deliver the outcomes of the project.” He clarified that operational integration meant a single force taking over railway policing and all BTP staff but relying on BTP for support in areas such as technology, funding and data access.
The Scottish Parliament had proposed the merge as a solution to concerns that the Scottish Government lacked oversight of BTP’s work in Scotland because it was a national police force, and that there was subsequently a lack of accountability in the BTP. This comes as Police Scotland is experiencing a crisis in its management as both its Chief Constable, Phil Gormley, and its Assistant Chief Constable, Bernard Higgins, have been suspended pending investigations of misconduct, and for Mr Higgins criminality. The Scottish Police Authority has also recently lost a chairperson and a chief executive.
BTP Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, who had previously expressed concerns about the proposed merger, said, “we are at a very important stage in preparation for the future of railway policing in Scotland and I am pleased to see that those involved in the decision-making process have listened very carefully to what we've said.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said, “we are fully committed to ensuring that railway policing in Scotland has a strong and robust future that delivers high safety standards for passengers, staff and the rail industry.”
Sir Michael Fallon speaks out about defence issues
Sir Michael Fallon, the former Defence Secretary, has spoken out about defence spending for the first time since resigning from office amid allegations of sexual misconduct last year. Speaking at the Defence and Security Forum, Sir Michael said that reducing UK defence spending “That would mean walking away from our international obligations, letting down our allies, and in the end leaving us less safe.” He argued that increasing defence spending from the NATO requirement of two percent to 2.5 percent of GDP would give the MoD £7.7bn. This is a significant portion of the Department’s £20bn funding deficit over the next 10 years.
As the lead of the National Security and Capability Review, Sir Mark Sedwill, said that his recommendations for defence would be “fiscally neutral,” Sir Michael stated, “Increased threats must mean a bigger defence budget. Our security is at stake.”
Following the speech, Sir Michael penned an article in the Daily Telegraph enforcing his argument that “Britain should spend 2.5 percent of GDP on defence if it wants to play its proper part in the world.” He noted that “the defence budget was always under pressure” while he was Defence Secretary and noted that another defence review so soon after the last one exacerbated “uncertainty for all three services.”
MPs call for resolution to MoD procurement costs
The Public Accounts Select Committee published a report entitled Delivering Carrier Strike in which it has called for defence chiefs to “urgently resolve” its negotiations with HM Treasury regarding who should pay the multibillion-pound bill for the MoD’s purchase of 138 stealth aircraft and two aircraft carriers. The Committee highlighted that this project going over its budget would put other MoD procurement projects at risk. The MoD budgeted £14bn to spend on the programme by 2021.
The report said, “the defence budget is very strained in the light of commitments made in the last Strategic Defence and Security Review” but that the MoD “should urgently resolve ongoing discussions with the Treasury regarding current forward [hedging] contracts. Given the department’s tight financial position, the department should establish with Treasury if relief can be provided, and write to the committee with an update.”
Committee Chair, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said, “the project continues to leave the MoD exposed financially.” Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, said, “The Government needs to address this issue urgently and ensure that the Carrier programme is adequately funded going forward.” An MoD spokesperson responded to the report saying, “This is a crucial investment that will revolutionise our ability to defend our nation as we face intensifying threats, and we are committed to keeping costs under control.”
MoD accused of inadequate pensions for wounded veterans
It has been reported in The Sun that defence chiefs’ compensation to injured veterans and bereaved families is a “national embarrassment” as figures published by the Ministry of Defence showed how little was paid out. The figures showed that orphans of troops received an allowance of £25.25 a week in 2018-19, which is an increase of only 75p. the “war benefit” for childless widows aged under 40 will increase by less than £1 a week, and has increased by just four percent since 2015-16. This is in contrast to the 8.6 percent increase in the state pension caused by the Government’s “inflation-busting Triple Lock rise.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh called the figures a national embarrassment and that it is “shameful” that the Government had allowed this to happen. Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister and from the pension firm Royal London said that “disabled war pensioners would be over £400 per year better off if the ‘Triple Lock’ policy had applied for the last three years.” Lyn Rigby, the mother of Lee Rigby, who was murdered in 2013, said that she was “almost speechless at the blatant lack of care for our military and their families” and that the promise that the loved ones of Armed Forces personnel will be looked after if the personnel die is a “big fat lie.”
The MoD responded saying that benefits to veterans and widows also came from tax exemptions which were not reflected in the figures.
Separately, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, tabled a question regarding the pensions arrangements for MoD fire-fighters. Defence Minister for People and Veterans, Tobias Ellwood, responded on behalf of the Defence Secretary highlighting that the MoD was working closely with the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury to offer a reduced Effective Pension Age for fire fighters in recognition of the physically demanding
The DPF is liaising with parliamentary supporters to ensure further scrutiny on MDP pensions and retirement age, given the recently published MDP Committee report advocated for an Enhanced Effective Pension Age of 60 years.