This week’s main security and defence news has stemmed from the fallout of the referendum which saw the British public vote to leave the EU. The economic impact of the decision led to speculation regarding the future of defence spending.
The Evening Standard reports that defence spending and planning is now expected to come under severe pressure as a result of the Brexit vote, with a growing possibility of cuts and a new review once a new government is installed in the autumn. In particular, the slide of the pound against the dollar will mean a number of big defence programmes will have to be scrutinised. This autumn the Government was due to sign initial contracts for the main building phase for the four large submarines and new warhead for the Trident nuclear ballistic missile programme. This has now been blown off course by Brexit and may not take place till next year as Trident renewal will have to be debated and approved by parliament.
Jane’s IHS Defence has estimated that the UK’s defence spending will be significantly cut as a result of the economic fallout of leaving the EU. Under the plans laid out in the 2015 Spending Review, the UK defence budget would have reached £46.8 billion by 2020. IHS now projects that spending will come to just £44.5 billion equating to a potential loss of £2.3 billion in that year alone. Over the 2016-2020 period, the cumulative nominal loss to defence if the 2015 Spending Review commitments are revised downwards by this degree could be as much at £7 billion.
The reality of future defence cuts will ultimately be dependent on political decision making, and two issues suggest that defence spending may be protected. Firstly, departing the EU will leave the UK with a gap to fill in its international commitments, and its role in NATO is the obvious avenue to demonstrate it remains active. Secondly, it is possible that a new Conservative cabinet will contain individuals that are more pro-defence than the current incumbents: notably, it has been rumoured that former Defence Secretary Liam Fox could return. As a result, it is not inconceivable that defence – together with the NHS – will be one of the few areas of expenditure protected from further cuts.
Conservative and Labour face post-referendum challenges
In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, both the Conservatives and Labour have faced a week of upheaval.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that he would depart prior to the next Conservative Party Conference in October has triggered a leadership contest. The candidates have been confirmed as Justice Secretary, Michael Gove; Home Secretary, Theresa May; Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb; former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox; and Minister at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Andrea Leadsom. These will be narrowed down to two candidates through votes by Conservative MPs, who will then be subjected to a vote among the Conservative Party membership. In an unexpected announcement shortly before nominations closed, the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson confirmed he would not be contesting the leadership, despite seemingly staking his support for the ‘Leave’ campaign on the expectation of doing so.
The Labour Party has also experienced substantial upheaval, as many Labour MPs have accused party leader Jeremy Corbyn of lending half-hearted support to the ‘Remain’ campaign – which they allege resulted in many traditional Labour voters choosing to leave. Mr Corbyn has experienced an unprecedented swathe of resignations from his Shadow Cabinet and wider shadow ministerial team. As part of an attempt to put forward a new shadow cabinet, Emily Thornberry has been replaced as Shadow Defence Secretary by Clive Lewis, a Corbyn supporter and only an MP since May 2015. Toby Perkins has resigned as Shadow Armed Forces Minister, and Rachael Maskell has been moved from her role as a Shadow Defence Minister to one of Shadow Environment Minister: neither have been replaced.
Subsequent to these resignations, Mr Corbyn lost a vote of no-confidence among the Parliamentary Labour Party on 28 June by a margin of 172 to 40 MPs. It is currently expected that he will face a leadership challenge within the next few days.
For the Conservatives, it is apparent that Theresa May is firm favourite to succeed David Cameron. For Labour, the future of Mr Corbyn is less clear. Although likely to face a leadership challenge, it is uncertain that Labour members will vote to depose him. In the interim, it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn does not have enough MPs supporting him to form a full shadow ministerial team, and as a result, many of the positions left vacant by resignations will remain so – including in the Labour defence team.
Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
Deidre Brock has had the last of her questions on the MDP answered in the House of Commons.
Ms Brock asked the Defence Secretary whether his Department plans to review the role of the MDP in safeguarding the Trident nuclear deterrent. In response, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said that as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the MoD are reviewing a series of options that may change the way they provide policing and guarding at some sites. He added that further work is required to assess the feasibility and implementation of these options and, at the appropriate time, the MoD will initiate formal consultation with the MDP staff associations.
Speculation on second Scottish independence referendum mounts
Meanwhile, speculation has continued over the potential for a second Scottish referendum after the majority of Scottish voters opted to remain in the EU. The BBC reports that Scottish First Minister has set up a “standing council” of experts to provide her with advice following the Brexit vote. On Tuesday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “all the impacts” of the referendum result needed to be set out and evaluated and “all of the options” open to Scotland in securing its relationship with the EU needed to be looked at. Opinion polls indicate a small majority in favour of independence has emerged since the EU referendum result was made known.
Nicola Sturgeon’s comment on the possibility of a new referendum since the vote have been relatively measured. She is in part reluctant to press ahead with a rapid vote due to Scotland’s current economic challenges. Scotland is dependent on the its membership of the union for ten per cent of its Government budget. Independence with a deficit at this level would necessitate huge and rapid cuts in public spending.
Reports that vote on Trident renewal will take place this month
The North West Evening Mail reports that final approval for the UK's Successor submarine programme will be given before parliament breaks for the summer recess. There has been speculation that the Brexit result in the EU referendum and turmoil in both the opposition and the government could delay the parliamentary vote on the four submarines from July until later in the year. But the decision looks set to be made before the MPs break on July 21.
Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, who chairs the Backbench Defence Committee, questioned the successor timetable with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon on Monday in the House of Commons. Mr Fallon said: “There are those who are opposed in principle, but there is clearly such a majority in this house. I believe that it is right that this house should vote on the principle of the renewal of the deterrent, and I very much hope that he will not have too much longer to wait.” Mr Woodcock then sought further reassurance from within the government, which he received. He said: “”I have since been given private reassurance by a senior government figure and am confident the plan remains to bring the vote before the summer recess at the end of July.”
UK to send 250 more military personnel to Iraq
The BBC reports that the UK is sending 250 more military personnel to Iraq, almost doubling its presence in the country. Most of them will be going to Al Asad airbase in Anbar province, western Iraq, 100 miles west of Baghdad. They include 50 trainers, 90 soldiers to protect the base and 30 to set up a headquarters. About 80 engineers will work on infrastructure for six months. About 300 British personnel are already in the country helping to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
In a written statement to Parliament, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the deployment would add to the UK's “significant contribution” to the campaign against so-called Islamic State. BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says that while the deployment has been planned for some time, Mr Fallon clearly hopes it will reassure nervous allies in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Trainee soldiers to be used on streets in national terror emergency
The Daily Telegraph reports that trainee soldiers could be called on to help protect Britain during a major terror incident, under new troop plans for a national emergency in the UK. Downing Street has signed off a plan allowing the Army to use regular and reservist soldiers who have not yet finished their full training, in the event of a crisis in Britain. The new rules to take effect from September 1 will free up around 6,000 Army trainees to help in civil emergencies such as multiple terror attacks, or widespread flooding. Army chiefs have made the change after growing Government demand that soldiers are put on standby to back up thinly-stretched armed police officers in the event of major Paris-style terrorist attacks.
Security chiefs last year drew up a plan called Op Temperer for soldiers to back up police in the event of a large terror attack, by taking on duties guarding buildings, manning cordons and searching remote or rural areas. The changes expected to be announced by Gen Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff, will now allow commanders to use soldiers who have finished only their first phase of training.
Recent comments that the Armed Forces were expected to maintain the capability of deploying a 50,000 expeditionary force and commit personnel to domestic counterterrorism operations were greeted with questions as to how such operations could be mounted given overall numbers. The use of partially trained soldiers in domestic operation was apparently part of the answer.
Scottish Government launches consultation on merger of Police Scotland and Scottish element of British Transport Police
The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on plans to integrate of the British Transport Police (BTP) in Scotland into Police Scotland. The change comes in the wake of the passing of the Scotland Act 2016, which included provisions to transfer legislative competence, and enable the transfer of executive competence, over the policing of railways and railway property in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. The move means that the BTP will no longer operate as a separate force in Scotland. The plans were originally announced in March 2015.
First F-35 fighter arrives in UK
The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain’s long-awaited new £70m stealth fighter has finally arrived in the UK for the first time, two years after engine trouble caused it to miss its inaugural visit. A UK F-35B jump jet arrived at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, accompanied by two US Marine counterparts after a nine hour transatlantic crossing. Britain has said it will eventually buy a total of 138 of the aircraft, which are described as the most advanced warplanes ever built.
Britain has taken delivery of five of the jets so far, but they have until now been in the US for testing and training, The jump jets, to be known as the Lightning II, will operate both from land and the new aircraft carriers with both the RAF and Navy. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said: “The F-35Bs are the most advanced fast jets in the world. Whether operating from land or from one of our two new aircraft carriers, they will ensure we have a formidable fighting force.”
Army Captain stripped of military cross
The Daily Telegraph reports that an Army officer will be stripped of his Military Cross medal after an internal investigation found commanders had apparently exaggerated his actions. Capt William Boreham was awarded the prestigious gallantry award for rescuing a badly wounded comrade, while “fighting off a deadly insurgent attack”, and coming under heavy fire from Taliban fighters. But after concerns from other soldiers who had been on the September 2012 patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, an investigation has found there was little or no enemy fire at the time.
The investigation is the second time a gallantry award won in Afghanistan has been withdrawn, with senior officers worrying the incidents could undermine the integrity of Britain’s medal system. An inquiry is now looking at how an embellished report of the incident was written up, but sources said Capt Boreham, then a lieutenant with 1st Bn, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, had been exonerated. The inquiry is instead understood to be looking at officers in his chain of command who were involved with writing up his actions.