Following several months of the principle focus of UK defence and security news being on the operational deployments of the Armed Forces, this week has seen a shift back towards the defence of the UK itself. With the Government putting forward a new set of counter-terrorism measures (see first item), Home Secretary Theresa May MP has revealed that the police and security services have foiled forty terror attacks since those that took place in July 2005. Mrs May said that the UK faces a “diverse” terror threat – unmatched before or since 11 September 2001 – and that the advance of Islamic State has given energy and a renewed sense of purpose to home-grown extremists.
In a linked development, this week has also seen the publication of the report into the murder of Private Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists. As relayed in The Guardian, the Intelligence Select Committee investigation concluded that whilst MI5 made errors in the run-up to the attack, none of the mistakes made by the organisation meant that a viable opportunity to prevent Private Rigby’s killing was missed. However, the social media giant Facebook came under scrutiny for failing to spot graphic threats of murder made by one of the soldier’s killers prior to the attack.
Also this week, the UK withdrew the last of its military presence in southern Afghanistan when a contingent of support personnel departed Kandahar airfield. The MoD signed the production contract for four F-35B fighter aircraft. And HMS Argyll seized 850kg of cocaine from Caribbean drug smugglers.
New counter-terrorism measures announced by Government
The BBC reports that the Government has announced that the police and the security services will gain new powers as the UK faces a terror threat that the Home Secretary has claimed is “perhaps greater than it has ever been”. Unveiling a new counter-terrorism bill, Theresa May MP said the UK was confronted with a security struggle “on many fronts”. Speaking at a counter-terrorism event in London, Mrs May told an audience “the time is right” for enhanced security measures.
The new legislation includes:
· Counter-radicalisation measures – requirements that schools, colleges and probation providers help prevent people being radicalised
· Changes to TPIMs – Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures – to allow the authorities to force suspects to move to another part of the country
· Raising the burden of proof for imposing TPIMs from “reasonable belief” to “balance of probabilities” (Note: this actually makes imposing TPIMs more difficult)
· Greater powers to disrupt people heading abroad to fight – including cancelling passports at the border for up to 30 days
· Tighter aviation security – requiring airlines to provide passenger data more quickly and effectively
· Banning insurance companies from covering ransoms
· Forcing firms to hand details to police identifying who was using a computer or mobile phone at a given time
Proposals for statutory temporary exclusion orders to control return to the UK of British citizens suspected of terrorist activity have also been put forward. However, David Anderson QC, the reviewer of the UK’s counter-terrorism laws, has expressed doubts about the practicality and wisdom of such a scheme.
Questions on MoD Police pension arrangements answered in the House of Commons
This week has seen two oral questions regarding the situation surrounding MoD Police pensions answered in the House of Commons. The first saw Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) ask the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Anna Soubry MP (Broxtowe) (Con) if she would look at the issue of MoD Police and firefighters being given pensions parity with their civilian counterparts again, given the very high costs associated with redeploying older workers and people having to be retired early on health grounds.
Ms Soubry replied that negotiations continue, but that the Defence Police Federation is looking for retirement at 65. As a result, she claimed that it was not as simple as giving them straight parity with the civilian forces.
While welcome that the issue was raised in Defence Questions, the Minister’s comments did not accurately convey the compromise proposed by the DPF. We have therefore written to the Minister to ask for a meeting to ensure there is no misunderstanding of the Federation’s position. We have additionally clarified our position with parliamentary supporters and written to the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee.
A second question on the pensions issue was asked shortly afterwards by Alan Reid MP (Argyll and Bute) (Lib Dem). Whilst stating that he was pleased that negotiations with MoD Police and firefighters were continuing, he asked the Minister if she could assure him that the negotiations would be complete by the time the Public Service Pensions Act 2013, purpose comes into effect on 1 April.
Ms Soubry responded by simply stating: “We need to make good progress and we need to make it quickly.”
Mr Reid’s question follows a meeting between him and the Federation on 18 November. We continue to keep Mr Reid updated on negotiations with the Minister.
Think-tank report declares MoD reforms plans ‘unfit for purpose’
The Daily Telegraph reports that a new study published by the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) has said that the Ministry of Defence’s strategy to use more reserves, contractors and civilians is not fit for purpose, has left the country vulnerable and may have damaged national security.
The MoD’s plan, referred to as the whole force concept, was brought in after 2010’s defence cuts to try to make better use of a mix of regulars, civilians and reserves for defence work as the Armed Forces were reduced in size. The RUSI paper suggests the new policy “has been driven by the search for financial efficiencies and the recognition that many essential defence skills now reside in the private sector rather than the Armed Forces.” In the 1991 Gulf War, Britain’s deployment had virtually no civilian contractors. By 2010, the MoD was employing 7,000 contractors across Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Indian Ocean.
Administrative failures caused loss of Reservist recruits, Defence Minister admits
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Minister for the Reserves, Julian Brazier MP, has admitted that a significant number of Army Reserve hopefuls have dropped out of trying to join up because there applications were delayed by technical problems. Whilst failing to provide an exact number in response to Stephen Doughty MP’s inquiry into what estimates the MoD had made with regards to how many people had are dropped out of the Reserve recruitment process as a result of the delays, Mr Brazier confessed that “quite a number” of potential recruits had been lost. However, he also stated that a significant number of measures had been taken to speed up the recruitment process.
As previously reported in this monitoring, the most recent figures show that the trained strength of the Army Reserve rose by only 20 from 19,290 in October 2013 to 19,310 a year later.
US Marine aircraft may be deployed onto new UK aircraft carriers
The BBC reports that the Royal Navy may ask the US Marines to fly their fighter aircraft off its new aircraft carriers following delays to the ordering of the UK’s F35B jets. Currently, the UK plans for one squadron of British F35Bs to be ready for service at sea by 2021. But even if this is achieved, there will be a gap of three years where the first of the two ships, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is ready, but the British squadron is not. The BBC’s Newsnight programme has reportedly been told that many decisions relating to the new ships, including such questions as their communications fit, are now being put on hold until the next SDSR, which is currently scheduled for next year. Senior Naval officers are therefore reportedly determined to get them to sea with a credible looking complement of aircraft on their decks as soon as possible.
MoD outlines plans for future submarine basing
Whilst it has long been planned that all UK nuclear submarine activity will in the future be centred on HMNB Clyde, this week has seen confirmation by the MoD of how the relocation of submarines from HMNB Devonport will be carried out. By 2020, HMS Talent and HMS Triumph will have moved to Scotland, joining the new generation of Astute-class submarines and Trident-carrying Vanguard-class boats. However, the Royal Navy’s other two Trafalgar-class submarines, HMS Torbay and HMS Trenchant, are to remain at their current home in Devonport until they are decommissioned in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
UK to commit to more military exercises in Eastern Europe
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Chief of the General Staff has said that the Army wants to send more armoured battle groups to Eastern Europe to carry out exercises. General Sir Nick Carter’s comments came as he visited personnel deployed on Exercise Black Eagle, a deployment involving over one thousand British troops, supported by twenty Challenger tanks and thirty Warrior armoured vehicles. Britain’s King’s Royal Hussars battle group has spent nearly a month alongside Leopard tanks and troops from Poland’s 10th Polish Armoured Cavalry Brigade. The allies have battled a thinly disguised “red alliance” led by the state of Baria, which has invaded in order to gain access to minerals. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP said the war game was “a clear signal to our allies in NATO that we stand up to our obligations and will continue to do so”. It is the largest in a number of recent exercises that the Government says should reassure Poland and the Baltic states, who fear more Russian aggression after the annexation of Crimea.