This week’s main security and defence news has centred on the Labour Party Conference. Prior to the event, Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader, defeating his opponent Owen Smith by a margin of 61.8% to 38.2%.
The Guardian reports that, just prior to the conference, Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis said that he has no intention of trying to reverse Labour’s policy of supporting the renewal of Trident before the next general election, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons. Mr Lewis told The Guardian that the Party’s existing pro-renewal policy would remain in place unless there were significant changes, such as spiralling costs. “I won’t be coming back to conference between now and the next election to try to undo the policy we have on Trident as things stand,” he said, adding that he did, however, plan to “scrutinise and hold the government to account” over the issue. The pledge drew an angry response from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which Mr Corbyn is a vice-president and long-term supporter. They accused Mr Lewis of “abandoning the defence review” and defying the democratic wishes of the majority of Labour members.
Mr Lewis’s remarks came after claims that Mr Corbyn’s chief strategist, Seumas Milne, altered his speech on the autocue before he delivered it, taking out a suggestion from Mr Lewis that he “would not seek to change” the Party’s existing policy. Mr Lewis is alleged to have punched a wall as he walked off stage, although he subsequently played down the incident. The Evening Standard subsequently reported that Labour now plans to postpone a firm decision on the renewal of Trident until after 2020. Party sources say a review being carried out by former soldier Mr Lewis and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry is going to be fudged because the two sides are so far apart. Addressing the conference, the Shadow Defence Secretary also pledged to maintain spending on defence at two per cent of GDP.
Despite the apparent truce in Labour’s internal conflict over Trident, Mr Corbyn will never be willing to endorse the system’s renewal – a fact that the Conservatives will continue to use against him. However, the pledge by the Shadow Defence Secretary to commit to spending two percent of GDP on defence could be seen to be the emergence of a ‘new normal’ amongst the political parties that could limit future defence cuts.
Now returned to power, the Labour leadership’s immediate priority will be to fill the large number of shadow ministerial roles left vacant following a wave of resignations in June – including the Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces role. The DPF will be seeking briefings following the completion of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle.
Theresa May announces crackdown on ‘no win no fee’ Iraq claims
The Daily Telegraph reports that Theresa May has announced a crackdown on “no win no fee” law firms that “impugn” the name of the Army by making vexatious claims against troops. The Prime Minister said that she wants to end the “industry” of vexatious claims against the Armed Forces to demonstrate to soldiers that they have “our full confidence and backing”. It comes amid mounting criticism of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which was set up to investigate allegations of murder, abuse and torture by British troops. Mrs May spoke during a visit with the Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, to meet members of the 1 Mercian regiment at Picton Barracks, Bulford, Wiltshire.
During the visit, she said that “What we know is if there are credible allegations of criminal behaviour, of course those should be properly investigated but what we need to take action on, and what we have taken action on already, is this issue of vexatious claims.” Mrs May added that “[On] the issue of those legal firms that are trying to impugn the name of our Armed Forces. We have already taken action to deal with that and we are looking at seeing what we can do and I am hoping we will be able to announce some further steps in the next few days”
As noted last week, the situation surrounding the legal claims over the Iraq and Afghan wars is quickly becoming politically intolerable, and action to limit the clearly false claims in now considered a necessity by the Government.
Rising number of guns being smuggled into UK, Metropolitan police say
The Guardian reports that Britain’s most senior police officer has said that more guns are being seized in cities across Britain as the number of firearms being smuggled into the country increases. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, told a hearing at London’s City Hall that a rise in gun crime in the capital was being put down to an increase in the number of weapons coming into the country. “We’ve seized more firearms than ever before,” he noted. “In the previous year  we’ve seized 714 guns – that’s around two per day. In a city this size, that’s a worrying number. This is an increase on previous years. Some of them are semiautomatic weapons, too.”
Figures show there were 302 discharges of lethal barreled weapons in London in the year to the end of August 2016 – 91 more than in the previous year. There was also a leap of one-third in August 2016 compared with June. There were 46 discharges in both July and August. Scotland Yard has launched a crackdown on gun crime hotspots, called Operation Viper, following a “significant” increase in the number of shootings in the capital.
Chief of Metropolitan Police to retire
The Guardian reports that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is to step down as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He completed his full five-year term as Commissioner of the Met just over a fortnight ago, but had his contract extended by a year, which would have seen him in the job until September 2017. Sources in the Met and the Mayor of London’s office insisted Sir Bernard had not been forced out, but had chosen when to leave. There had been some tension between the new Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the Commissioner, who was appointed in 2011 by Mr Khan’s Conservative predecessor, Boris Johnson, and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. His predecessor, Sir Paul Stephenson, was forced from the job as a result of the phone-hacking scandal, and before him, Sir Ian Blair quit after he was told he had lost Johnson’s confidence.
Sir Bernard will stay in his post until February 2017, while the mayor and the Home Secretary choose a successor. Downing Street is expected to have a strong say in the appointment. The Times reports that one name discussed in Whitehall is Sir Charles Montgomery, head of the Border Agency, who was the Second Sea Lord when he retired from the Royal Navy in 2012. Sir George Zambellas, the former First Sea Lord who left the Royal Navy in April, is also in the running.
Civil Service to impose further caps on public sector exit pay
Public Sector Executive reports that trade unions, trade unions and staff association have been told to accept a reduction in public sector exit payments to avoid an even greater reduction. In a letter to union and association heads, Simon Claydon, the director of civil service workforce strategy and inclusion, made a formal offer, which includes reducing the tariff for calculating exit payments from four weeks to three, capping exit and voluntary redundancy payments at 18 months’ salary and capping compulsory redundancy payments at nine months.
However, he said that if “a sufficient number of unions” do not accept the offer, the Government will implement an initial version of the scheme, where the threshold for voluntary redundancy and exit payments will be 15 months’ salary. He wrote to the heads of GMB, Prospect, the Prison Officers Association (POA), the Defence Police Federation, Unite, FDA, PCS and Unison. FDA and Prospect have already agreed to the terms, whilst PCS, Unite and the POA have promised to oppose them.
UK to oppose EU Army
BBC News reports that Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has said UK will oppose any attempts to create an EU army because it could “undermine” the role of NATO. The Atlantic Alliance “must remain the cornerstone of our defence and the defence of Europe”, he said, ahead of informal talks with EU defence ministers in Bratislava. Sir Michael said the UK was not alone in opposing a common EU defence policy. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said the UK would not have a veto over closer defence co-operation. France and Germany are set to make the case for increased military co-operation at the informal meeting in the Slovakian capital later.
Speaking in Bratislava, Sir Michael said the UK “remains committed” to Europe's security despite the vote to leave the EU, and said the bloc needs to “step up to the challenges” of terrorism and migration. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the creation of a European army back in 2015 to confront threats from Russia or elsewhere, and the idea has gained renewed impetus after the UK's vote to leave the EU. In August this year, the leaders of the Czech Republic and said a “joint European army” was needed to bolster security in the EU.
Pre-charge bail reforms will bog forces down with 'pointless bureaucratic burden', claim police leaders
Police Professional reports that police chiefs have said that government plans to restrict the use of pre-charge bail in England and Wales impose “unrealistic” deadlines and make intelligence sharing difficult. The proposals, to be introduced under the Policing and Crime Bill, will limit initial bail periods to 28 days and require all bail applications to be authorised by an inspector. Any request to extend the period beyond four weeks will have to be authorised by a superintendent, and cases where bail is extended for three months or more would require approval from a magistrates’ court. However, a College of Policing review has said that this short time period will prove inefficient after finding that the average bail period is 53 days. College crime lead David Tucker told Police Professional: “We know that a significant number of cases go beyond 28 days. This creates a bureaucratic burden.”