This week’s main security and defence news has been the first sailing of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain’s largest ever warship slipped out of Rosyth dockyard and into open water through an exit with only 14in clearance on either side and 20in of water under the keel. The aircraft carrier then edged along the Forth under three bridges, including the landmark rail bridge, with a little over six feet to spare.
The trials mark the latest milestone in the nearly decade-long building of the Royal Navy’s two carriers, at a cost of more than £6bn. The first steel was cut on the carrier eight years ago but it will not be sent on operations until 2021. Early deployments are expected to see US Marines F-35B jets embarked alongside British planes, to make up for early shortages of UK jets. The Royal Navy has not had an aircraft carrier capability since the defence cuts of 2010.
Nevertheless, the sailing of the ship has prompted a backlash of claims that the vessels were either unnecessary or masked a wider underfunding of defence. The Daily Mail features an opinion piece by writer Max Hastings in which he referred to them as a “£6bn blunder”. The Times states that the Army should not be forced to pay for the carriers through further cuts.
MDP marine units from HMNBs Clyde, Portsmouth and Devonport escorted HMS Queen Elizabeth during its passage from its berth at Rosyth to the open sea. Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister HMS Prince of Wales will be based at HMNB Portsmouth once in service, and will be protected by a contingent of MDP officers. Given the immense cost of these vessels, it makes no sense to cut the already comparatively small outlay of providing them with security. The Federation will ensure that the value the MDP provides in defending these valuable assets is make clear to policymakers and we have been active in the past week highlighting concerns around a Force ‘re-set’ (as referenced at the annual conference) to parliamentary supporters, with Madeleine Moon MP already raising the issue in the House of Commons. We have also submitted a letter to The Times in response to its editorial.
· Investigation launched after alleged incursion at HMNB Devonport
· Cuts to the MDP highlighted in parliament
· Claim that Labour leader plans to scrap Trident ‘as soon as possible’
· Police chiefs to consider wider arming of forces
· MSPs pass Scottish policing merger bill
· Defence Secretary refuses to commit to maintaining the size of the Army
· London Bridge attacked ‘entered UK under false name’
· Newcastle man charged with eight terrorism offences
Investigation launched after alleged incursion at HMNB Devonport
The Plymouth Herald reports that an investigation has been launched after a man and his young son allegedly filmed themselves walking around HMNB Devonport. A Royal Navy spokesman said the incident is being investigated. The spokesman said: “We are aware of a security incident at the naval base on June 22”, and that “This is now under investigation so it would be inappropriate to discuss further or speculate while our investigation is ongoing.”
Cuts to MDP highlighted in Parliament
Concerns over the planned ‘re-set’ of the MDP compliment from around 2,600 officers to approximately 2,300 as a money saving initiative have been raised during a debate on the Queen’s Speech. Intervening during an address by former Labour Policing Minister David Hanson in which he was criticising the Government over cuts to policing, former Defence Select Committee member Madeleine Moon asked:
My right hon. Friend, having served as a Minister with responsibility for policing, will remember the inputs of the Ministry of Defence police in providing security and stability for much of our most important national infrastructure. Is he aware that there is to be a £12.5 million cut in Ministry of Defence policing in this year, which means that fewer armed police officers will be available to support Home Office police?
Although there was no direct response to the question from the Government, Mr Hanson welcomed the intervention, and noted that there had been a cut of more than 1,500 armed police since he was at the Home Office.
Mrs Moon raised the issue of the planned cuts to the MDP following a briefing the Federation sent to her. She has been a long-standing supporter of both the Force and the Federation. We will approach Mr Hanson to brief him on the DPF’s concerns over the Government and MoD’s handling of the MDP. As a former policing minister and member of the Intelligence and Security Select Committee, his views carry considerable weight in Parliament.
Controversy over police funding cuts continues
The BBC reports that police in England and Wales would struggle to deal with riots on the scale of 2011 due to budget cuts, an officer who oversees funding has said. Chief Constable Dave Thompson, of West Midlands Police, said the “strain is showing” after multiple terror attacks. “We'd have real challenges in dealing with something like the 2011 riots again,” he wrote on the National Police Chiefs' Council blog.
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary has admitted that police resources are “very tight”. Amber Rudd told MPs on Thursday that the police response to attacks in Manchester and London required “additional work” in law enforcement, adding that “I recognise the fact that we cannot carry on at that emergency level indefinitely.”
The issue of police funding has also been raised in the House of Commons. During this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May was asked by Labour MP Ian Curtis if she planned to reverse police budget cuts. Responding, Ms May said that police budgets had been protected, adding “we are reforming policing, but the key thing is not the number of police on the streets; the key thing is what happens to crime, and crime has fallen to a record low.” Asked later to confirm that the Commissioner of the Met and the heads of counter-terrorism, the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council had written to her to criticise funding cuts, the Prime Minister said that “It is not just about the funding; it is about ensuring they have the powers they need to deal with the terrorists – that is what we are determined to ensure.”
The Government is facing increasing pressure to release additional funding for public services. However, there is substantial resistance from the Treasury. Notably, hints from Downing Street this week that the one percent cap of public sector pay would lifted be were subsequently reversed after a reported intervention by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.
Claim that Labour leader plans to scrap Trident ‘as soon as possible’
The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn intends to scrap the UK’s Trident nuclear programme as soon as possible, according to the founder of the Glastonbury festival, Michael Eavis. As the festival in Somerset ended on Sunday Eavis recounted a conversation he had had with the Labour leader, telling an audience on Sunday that he had asked Corbyn: “When are you going to get rid of Trident?” Corbyn, he said, had replied: “As soon as I can.” The comments risks reopening what some have seen as a damaging debate.
Labour said the quotes attributed to Eavis paraphrased a conversation with Mr Corbyn and did not fully reflect the leader’s position or the Party’s position on Trident, which remained unchanged from the 2017 manifesto. “Both Jeremy and the Labour party have long been committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which aims to achieve a nuclear-free world. Trident renewal is Labour policy, as spelled out in our manifesto, which Jeremy and the party were proud to stand on in the election,” the party said.
Retaining Trident remains official Labour Party policy, and it would be extremely difficult for Mr Corbyn and his allies to force a change of course in the near future. Irrespective of the Labour leader’s views, the Federation continues to engage with the Shadow Defence Team, highlighting that the nuclear deterrent and other critical assets must be properly protected.
Police chiefs to consider wider arming of forces
The Guardian reports that police chiefs will consider the possibility of offering a gun to every frontline police officer in England and Wales to counter the threat of a marauding terrorist attack. A discussion paper on the subject has been drawn up for the next meeting of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), which wants to look at how to boost armed police numbers to deal with a crisis, following the atrocities in Manchester and London. Also up for discussion, sources say, is the introduction of more specially trained armed officers in cars, and offering handguns to some patrol officers as well as the idea that all frontline officers could be offered training to carry a gun. Additional options under consideration include equipping more officers with tasers and an increase in the number of static armed police at key locations.
The paper is intended to start a debate on the issue among police leaders at the two-day meeting that starts on 12th July – although it is thought at this stage unlikely that any wider arming will be agreed upon. A spokesperson for the NPCC said: “These are early-stage discussions, not yet at a phase of formal proposals. Also, any decision regarding arming patrol officers would be subject to extensive threat and risk assessments to ensure it was justified by the nature of the threat.”
MSPs pass Scottish policing merger bill
The BBC reports that MSPs have passed legislation aimed at merging railway policing north of the border into Police Scotland. The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill is the first step towards the national force taking on the role of British Transport Police. There had been a lengthy debate over the plan, with police bosses warning it could be “massively complicated” and “a real challenge”. Labour and the Conservatives have opposed the merger. The Scottish government has long wanted to integrate railway policing services into the single national force, and tabled a bill to that end in December 2016.
The British Transport Police Federation, which represents officers, said they were “disappointed and frustrated” that the bill had been passed, saying the Scottish government had “dismissed” other ideas with “little, if any, discussion”. Commenting after the bill was approved, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “With this move we are ensuring that policing on Scotland's 93 million annual rail journeys is fully accountable to the people of Scotland and our parliament.”
Defence Secretary refuses to commit to maintaining the size of the Army
The Daily Mirror reports that cuts which have seen the Army stripped down to fewer than 82,000 troops will not be reversed, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon signaled. The 2015 Conservative election manifesto promised to “maintain” Army numbers at 82,000. But strength has since dwindled to 78,400 – 3,500 fewer than promised. This year’s manifesto included no minimum troops’ level – and Sir Michael refused to commit to lifting the number of soldiers back to the crucial 82,000 level. While pledging the numbers of sailors and airmen would rise in the coming years, he would only say that there will be no extra cuts to the Army. He told the Royal United Services Institute’s annual Land Warfare Conference: “We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the Armed Forces, and an Army that is capable of fielding a war fighting division, whilst we also support planned increases in the size of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.”
Mr Fallon’s comments came as The Times reports that the head of the US Army has issued a veiled attack on the size of the UK’s land forces. General Mark Milley told a British Army conference that “significant-sized land forces” were required to achieve a government’s objectives.
The prospect of additional cuts to the British Army at a time when it is expected to be able to fields a division-sized force further undermines the rationale behind any move to use soldiers for the type of guard duties currently covered by the MDP. The Federation will continue to ensure, as a part of our communications, policymakers are aware of the role MDP officers play in allowing Armed Forces personnel to perform their role without being excessively burdened with a security taskings.
London Bridge attacked ‘entered UK under false name’
The Guardian reports that one of the terrorists who carried out the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks lied about his age and gave a false name in order to get into the UK. Rachid Redouane, 30, used the alias Rachid Elkhdar and told authorities he was five years younger than he was. It has not been disclosed when he entered Britain. The details emerged at the opening of inquests into the deaths of Redouane, Khuram Shazad Butt, 27, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, who killed eight people on the night of 3rd June. During the proceedings, DCI Simon Moring of the Metropolitan police told the court that all three men died after being shot by police officers at Borough Market. The inquest has now been adjourned to a later undecided date.
Newcastle man charged with eight terrorism offences
The BBC reports that a 31-year-old man has been charged with eight terrorism offences. Abdulrahman Alcharbati, from Newcastle, is accused of seven counts of disseminating terrorist publications. He also faces a charge of eliciting, publishing, or communicating information about members of the Armed Forces. Mr Alcharbati, of Westholme Gardens, who was first arrested in May, is due to appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court later.
The BBC also reports that four men have been arrested on Majorca and two more in the UK and Germany as part of a Spanish investigation into support for the Islamic State. One was a 43-year-old Islamic preacher from Birmingham. He was arrested in the city's Sparkhill area under a European Arrest Warrant and later appeared in court in London. The man was identified as Tarik Chadlioui, a Belgian-Moroccan father of eight children who arrived in the UK in 2015.