This week's security and defence has centred on the Labour Party’s defence review. The Times reports that Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry has refused to commit the Party to spending two per cent of GDP on defence, opening a new front in Labour’s internal battle over military expenditure. During a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, she raised the prospect that a review of Labour’s defence policy could result in it withholding support for the NATO benchmark. Instead, Ms Thornberry used her address to argue for more specific capabilities, quoting the military historian Sir Michael Howard’s call for more “geeks, spooks and thugs”, adding that “whilst his description of Special Forces as ‘thugs’ is not one I would use, the overarching point is well taken.” She also questioned whether Trident was “future-proof”, saying that technological advances such as underwater drones may mean that submarines will no longer be undetectable.
In a linked development, The Guardian has featured an opinion piece by former Labour Defence Secretaries Lord Robertson and Lord Hutton, in which they state that they are increasingly concerned that the Labour Party’s defence review is sliding into chaos and incoherence. In particular, they address the debate surrounding Trident, asserting that they do not accept as legitimate the use of spurious arguments and newly created “facts” to argue against the plan to continue the deterrent into the future by building four new ballistic-missile submarines. They cite and refute claims that Trident is vulnerable to cyber and underwater drone attack, and dismiss potential alternative nuclear weapons systems.
The internal debates within Labour over defence policy will continue ahead of any publication of the Party’s defence review. Meetings have been arranged for the Federation with members of the Labour team, during which we will be underlining the importance of robust security for critical defence assets and infrastructure.
- Thousands of people expected to take part in Trident protest
- Military leaders warn against UK leaving the EU
- Deepcut Inquiry: soldier denies having sex with recruit
- Official credited with reviving MoD's financial management leaves department
- Contractors pressured after reports of Armed Forces housing failures
- Ross Kemp visit a 'contributory factor' in Afghanistan helicopter crash
Thousands of people expected to take part in Trident protest
The Evening Standard reports that tens of thousands are people are expected to take part in a demonstration against the renewal of Trident. A rally takes place in central London on Saturday, with leaders of the Labour party, SNP and Plaid Cymru among those set to address protesters. Coaches from across the UK, including Scotland where the Trident submarines are based, will make their way to the capital ahead of the rally.
Kate Hudson, who chairs the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said: “The extent of popular opposition is becoming clear. Saturday will not be a gathering of the anti-nuclear clan – it will show the breadth of opposition.” A Parliamentary vote on renewing Trident is expected later this year.
The Federation has highlighted to senior parliamentarians (including former Armed Forces leaders) in recent meetings that substantial demonstrations over the renewal of Trident can be expected in the coming months – which will necessitate a security presence of publicly accountable police officers.
Military leaders warn against UK leaving the EU
The Daily Telegraph reports that some of the UK’s most senior former military commanders say the country must stay in the European Union so it can protect itself from “grave security threats” caused by the Islamic State and Russia. In a letter to the newspaper, thirteen former Armed Forces leaders said that they “believe strongly that it is in our national interest to remain an EU member”. The signatories to the letter include Field Marshal Lord Erwin Bramall, a former Chief of Defence Staff who took part in the Normandy landing in the Second World War, and Field Marshal Lord Charles Guthrie, also a former Chief of Defence Staff, who served in Aden, the Persian Gulf, Malaysia and East Africa and Northern Ireland.
Subsequent to the publication of the letter, it emerged that the name of Special Forces chief General Sir Michael Rose had been added to the letter without his authorisation. Sir Michael has since asked for his name to be removed from the letter.
David Cameron has put national security at the heart of his campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, warning that Britain is safer from terrorists and rogue nuclear states by being a member of the bloc. The referendum – which was announced last weekend – will take place on Thursday 23 June.
Deepcut Inquiry: soldier denies having sex with recruit
The Guardian reports that a soldier has denied having sex with an 18-year-old female private who was later found shot in the head at Deepcut barracks. Pte Ian Atkinson said he and Pte Cheryl James had only ever “kissed” and this happened on just one occasion. The inquest into James’s death in November 1995 has been told by former soldier Mark Beards that Sgt Andrew Gavaghan had ordered her to go into a room with Pte Atkinson to have sex the night before she died. Pte Atkinson said he was shocked when he heard about Mr Beard’s allegations for the first time last year as preparations were being made for this inquest. He told the court: “I do not know why he would do that or what he was thinking.” Surrey police and the MoD have accused Mr Beards of being a fantasist and liar who had fabricated the allegations and tried to sell them to a Sunday newspaper.
The questioning was part of an attempt to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of Pte Cheryl James in 1995. The inquest continues.
Official credited with reviving MoD's financial management leaves department
Defence News reports that the senior official credited with helping sort out the MoD’s broken finances is leaving his post as Permanent Secretary to move to the Treasury. Jon Thompson has been the top civil servant at the MoD since September 2012. Mr Thomson was previously Director General of Finance at the department. The official, who has responsibility for MoD finances, reform, and strategy will move to become Chief Executive of the Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue (HMRC). A replacement has yet to be named for the MoD post.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Mr Thomson “played the key role in helping to sort out the department’s finances and balancing its budget, in addition to overseeing important organisational change and the delivery of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review.”
Contractors pressured after reports of Armed Forces housing failures
The Sun reports that the Defence Secretary has threatened to sanction two contractors after the newspaper exposed their failure to fix neglected Armed Forces homes. Amey Chief Executive Mel Ewell and Carillion counterpart Richard Howson were warned “all options are on the table” by Michael Fallon. Two years ago, CarillionAmey signed a £2.8billion contract to maintain and repair 45,000 homes. They now receive up to 1,000 complaints a week about poor service with problems including broken boilers, mould and rats.
Under a drastic “improvement plan” they have pledged to hire more staff and shorten their response time. An insider, said: “The Defence Secretary is absolutely livid that our Armed Forces have been let down in this way and he didn’t pull any punches.” A spokesman for CarillionAmey said it was a “constructive meeting”.
Ross Kemp visit a 'contributory factor' in Afghanistan helicopter crash
The Daily Telegraph reports that a visit from Ross Kemp was a “contributory factor” to the focus of a British crew of an Apache that crashed almost eight years ago in Afghanistan, according to an investigation. The MoD board of inquiry found that a major cause of the accident was “disorientation” experienced by the pilot when “he entered a dust cloud during a transition”. However, referring to Mr Kemp's visit to the base in Helmand Province, it added: “Whilst not a distraction at the time of the accident the Board believes it was a contributory factor to the overall focus of the crew.” Both crew members – including the pilot – escaped the crash, which saw the helicopter lose its tail and suffer severe damage to its rotor blades, with minor injuries.