The national news this week has been dominated by the Labour Party conference, at which leader Jeremy Corbyn has endeavoured to build on the Party’s unexpected winning of seats at the General Election and capitalise on Conservative internal tensions, particularly over Brexit. In a lengthy speech interrupted throughout by applause from delegates, Mr Corbyn insisted the Labour Party was a party of government in waiting.
Defence did not form a high-profile aspect of the conference, but Nia Griffiths (who the Federation met in July) has reaffirmed the Party’s commitment to UK membership of NATO. In other news, the MoD has been accused by a member of the Defence Select Committee of “cooking the books” to achieve the NATO spending target of two percent of GDP, with issues around the MoD budget again hitting the national headlines. The MDP has also been the subject of an article in The Herald following the suspension of its firearms licence by the College of Policing.
Included in this week’s summary is the following:
MDP criticised for firearms licence suspension
The Herald has reported that the firearms licence of the MDP has been suspended, prompting criticisms from SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP that the MoD was playing “fast and loose” with security. The licence was suspended by the College of Policing, according to the newspaper, after the MDP “failed to meet national standards on firearms.”
Stewart McDonald said, “Ministers are ultimately responsible for this and they must outline in full why this has been allowed to happen, and give assurances that they are taking appropriate action to put it right.” He also described the licence suspension as a “sorry episode.” Relying to requests for comment from The Herald, an MoD spokesperson said, “The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) has completed corrective action to address the issues identified in the College of Policing inspection report. The Force is now working closely with the College on the reinstatement of its Firearms Training Licence at the earliest opportunity. This does not impact on security arrangements or the ability of MDP officers to carry firearms while on duty.”
With MDP voluntarily complying with the College of Policing licencing standards, there has been no operational impact to the College’s decision. The Federation has written to parliamentary supporters – including Stewart McDonald (who National Chairman Eamon Keating met in July) – to explain that the College’s decision was based on administrative issues rather than any suggestion the Force’s ability to secure key sites and assets was compromised.
MoD accused of cooking books to hit defence spending target
The Times has reported that Defence Select Committee members (and candidate for its Chairmanship) Jonny Mercer MP has accused the MoD of “cooking the books” to hit a NATO target of spending two percent of GDP on defence. Mr Mercer, who unsuccessfully stood against Dr Julian Lewis to chair the Select Committee, has suggested that only personnel within the MoD believe the UK is meeting NATO spending requirements. Mr Mercer also suggested the two percent target was secondary to the capability gaps being displayed across the British military.
Mr Mercer’s comments have tallied with those made this week by US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson who, when speaking about British defence spending, commented: “We spend twice that much and we could still spend more”. In response, an MoD spokesperson has refuted suggestions the UK is failing to meet the NATO target, commenting: “Our £36 billion budget is rising each year and, by spending over two per cent of GDP on defence, we are leading by example in NATO.”
The questioning of British defence spending prompted a further response from the Chief of the Defence Staff. Speaking at his first media conference after more than a year in office, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach said the Armed Forces would continue to work to the budgetary requirements set by government, despite acknowledging that “the security landscape has darkened.” Air Chief Marshall Peach commented that, “Two per cent is what we are given by the government and we work for the government,” also refusing to state whether additional funding was required in the current climate and insisting that a mini defence review of national security that launched in July would focus more on adjustments than cuts.
The question over whether the UK is meeting the NATO defence spending target is a longstanding one. In questioning the existing defence budget, Jonny Mercer indicates he will remain outspoken on defence matters despite not being appointed Chairman of the Select Committee. However, despite these repeated challenges, there is no indication the Government will commit additional funds to the MoD, meaning workforces such as the MDP will remain vulnerable to further demands for cuts. The DPF is meeting with Select Committee Chairman Dr Julian Lewis in October and will discuss concerns over security funding.
Moped gang attacks prompt review of police pursuit rules
Policing Minister Nick Hurd MP has announced there will be a Home Office review of the law and practice of police pursuits to ensure officers feel they have the legal protection they need to go after moped and scooter gangs, The Guardian has revealed. This follows a notable increase of thefts and attacks committed by people on mopeds and motorcycles, and a forum this month hearing evidence that police were reluctant to pursue offenders travelling at high speeds or without helmets. The Home Office has stated there was “no ban on pursuits where the rider was helmetless, and the review would clarify when a pursuit was justified.” Mr Hurd said that, “While it is clearly vital that we protect public safety and that officers are accountable for their actions, it is also important that skilled officers have the confidence to protect the public by pursuing offenders where it is safe to do so.”
Details of the review have not been published on the Home Office website at the time of writing. While the review may have minimal if any direct impact on the roles performed by MDP officers, we will monitor for further information on the review, should it influence best practice guidance to Home Office constabularies in future.
Man dies after armed officers 'fire on car' on Portbury Hundred
The BCC has reported that a man has been killed in a police shooting incident on a main road a Portishead near Bristol. Officers from Avon and Somerset responded to reports of a man in car armed with handgun, who had allegedly threatened another motorist. Witnesses reported that officers fired five to ten shots at the suspect, who officers were unable to resuscitate on the scene. Avon and Somerset has confirmed it has referred the incident to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Anti-terror police arrest man as properties searched in London and Walsall
A 20-year-old man has been arrested by counter-terror police for allegedly “possessing information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”, The Telegraph reports. A West Midlands Police spokesperson said that “the arrest was pre-planned and intelligence-led; there was no threat to the public’s safety.”
Trade row between Boeing and Bombardier threatens new British military contracts with US
Various news outlets have reported on a brewing row between the US and UK that has caused British ministers to consider vetoing future defence contracts with American contractor Boeing that would influence the purchase of Chinook helicopters and surveillance aircraft.
The row has been precipitated by US Department of Commerce decision to back Boeing in its claims Canadian manufacturer Bombardier has received state aid from the UK and Canadian governments for the construction of planes that have been partly developed in Belfast. The American decision has resulted in the US government applying a tariff to Bombardier that has put work at its Belfast plant in jeopardy, risking 4,200 jobs and a further 10,000 across Bombardier’s supply chain. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has said the move “could jeopardise our future relationship with Boeing.” The row is also a blow to Theresa May’s efforts to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump’s administration.
Woman arrested under Official Secrets Act for allegedly stealing classified British Government information
The Independent has reported that a 65-year-old female employee of a government department has been arrested for allegedly “supplying classified information to another state or organisation” under the Official Secrets Act 1911. She stands accused of unlawfully disclosing information “prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state”. She is not believed to have been working in the security agencies or supplying information to either Russia or China. Officials have declined to make any further comment beyond confirming the arrest, as the investigation is ongoing
Donald Trump's stance on North Korea is 'terrifying', says Shadow Defence Secretary
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith has used a speech at a fringe event at the Labour Party’s annual conference to condemn language used by Donald Trump regarding North Korea and insist a military resolution to heightened tension with the rogue state is unacceptable. Describing the US President’s language as “terrifying”, Ms Griffith also suggested Trump is being marginalised by more professional people within the administration.
Ms Griffith also reiterated Labour’s commitment to UK membership of NATO, despite the organisation having been criticised in the past by Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Nia Griffith did not have a high profile role in this week’s Labour Party conference. With suggestions the Party had elected not to discuss Brexit in detail, given numerous internal tensions, it is entirely likely that defence issues also took something of a back seat to focus on other issues and avoid previously difficult discussions, particularly around the nuclear deterrent – although the Party’s official policy remains in favour of a continuous at sea deterrent.
The Federation met with Ms Griffith in July, and she has been helpful in writing to the Defence Secretary on the challenges facing MDP officers. We will continue to liaise with her office.