The main UK security and defence news of the last week been the aftermath of the attack in Westminster. The Daily Telegraph reports that House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has announced there will be two security reviews following the strike a week ago. Terrorist Khalid Masood ran past unarmed police officers at the main entrance to Parliament and stabbed a police officer, killing him. He had previously driven a car over Westminster bridge, killing three pedestrians and injuring many. Mr Masood was fatally shot by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon's close protection officers moments later.
The police officer who lost his life has been identified as 48 year old PC Keith Palmer. He was married with a five-year-old daughter. His family said they were devastated by his death. He had joined the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection command unit less than a year ago, but had been in the Met since 2001. Prior to that, he served in the Royal Artillery. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said PC Keith Palmer will be commemorated by the UK Police Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Ms Rudd said the PC Palmer’s sacrifice has “touched the lives of millions of people in this country and around the world” as she thanked the police for their “phenomenal” bravery and professionalism after the attack. An appeal launched to raise funds to support the family of PC Keith Palmer has so far raised £736,000.
Masood’s other main victims were US tourist Kurt Cochran, 75 year old Leslie Rhodes from Clapham, and teacher Aysha Frade – all of whom died after being struck by his car. Dozens more received injuries. Masood himself was a 52 year old who was born in Kent. The married father-of-three spent years moving round the country – and the prison system – with a host of different identities, including Adrian Elms.
Additional armed officers have been deployed across the country since the attack, with The Sun reporting that anti-terrorist barrier and additional police personnel have been put in place around Winsor Castle.
The attack on Westminster has prompted a number of questions regarding future security, which will be considered as part of detailed security reviews. Included amongst these are the deployment of unarmed rather than armed officers at the main entrance gate to the Palace of Westminster. With security in London likely to remain high for the foreseeable future, the attack has – tragically – also highlighted the necessity of armed policing presence around Westminster.
· Warnings against UK against using security links as “bargaining chip”
· Home Secretary warns to tech firms to support counterterrorism efforts
· Marine convicted of Taliban murder to be released
· Police chief constable roles ‘could be opened to civilians’
· Soldiers attack “unfair’ 1% pay rise”
· RAF fighters to deploy to Romania
Warnings against UK against using security links as “bargaining chip”
The Guardian reports that Theresa May has warned European leaders that failure to reach a comprehensive Brexit agreement will result in a weakening of cooperation on crime and security, triggering accusations that her remarks amounted to blackmail. Senior figures in Brussels complained about the Prime Minister’s remarks, while critics in Westminster also complained that Mrs May had issued a “blatant threat” and was treating security as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations.
The long-anticipated Article 50 letter, hand-delivered by Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s EU ambassador, to European Council President Donald Tusk stressed that the British Government’s prime desire was to maintain a “deep and special partnership” with the EU27. But the Prime Minister also suggested that a final divorce agreement would need to take in both economic and security cooperation and issued a clear warning about the potential fallout if the talks failed. “If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement, the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened,” she wrote.
The apparent threat to limit security cooperation with EU countries should the UK not obtain the deal it desires is unlikely to be taken seriously by many in Brussels. However, the next two years of negotiations are likely to see heated rhetoric from both sides.
Home Secretary warns to tech firms to support counterterrorism efforts
The Guardian reports that Home Secretary Amber Rudd has told tech bosses they must do more to tackle terrorism during a private meeting. The firms, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, have been brought before the Home Secretary days after she criticised some of them over their adoption of encryption techniques that mean users’ messages cannot be accessed. The move was prompted by the announcement by police that Khalid Masood had used one such app – WhatsApp – prior to carrying out the attack in Westminster.
The Home Secretary faced criticism herself, however, from those who said her demands on encryption betrayed a lack of basic understanding of the subject. The latest version of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp routinely uses end-to-end encryption, meaning that the messages are made indecipherable when they leave the sender and can be decrypted only by the intended recipient. WhatsApp says it does not have access to plain-text versions of the messages at any stage.
The battle between the UK Government and tech firms that provide encryption services mirrors a similar conflict between the FBI and Apple in the US following the latter’s refusal to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist attacker – who killed 15 people – in December 2015. In the end, the FBI paid a private contractor to hack into the phone.
Marine convicted of Taliban murder to be released
The Daily Telegraph reports that a Royal Marine who fatally shot an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan could be freed from prison within weeks. Sergeant Alexander Blackman, 42, from Taunton in Somerset, was sentenced to seven years in jail on Tuesday for diminished responsibility manslaughter following the recent quashing of his murder conviction. Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, his wife Claire said: “We are overjoyed at the judges' decision to significantly reduce Al's sentence, such that he can be released imminently.”
As a result of time already served since his original conviction in November 2013, the decision of five judges at the Court Martial Appeal Court means it is likely Blackman could be freed next month. He has already spent almost three-and-a-half years in prison. The court found the incident was not a “cold-blooded execution” as a court martial had earlier concluded, but the result of a mental illness, an “adjustment disorder”. The judges said Blackman had been “an exemplary soldier before his deployment to Afghanistan in March 2011”, but had “suffered from quite exceptional stressors” during that deployment.
Police chief constable roles ‘could be opened to civilians’
The Daily Mail reports that civilians could compete with senior police officers for chief constable jobs under new Government plans. It is understood that people from outside policing could take the top roles in England and Wales following Home Office proposals in an attempt to attract a more diverse range of candidates. The Home Office said choosing police leaders is of the 'highest importance', and the College of Policing said individuals would be required to undergo 'appropriate training'. A consultation on the plans is to be undertaken.
Giselle Lockett, lead for professional development at the College of Policing, said: “The appointment to become a chief constable requires a candidate to meet some of the most stringent requirements in policing.” A recent survey published by the College of Policing identified a lack of available chief officer candidates, and a lack of diversity and ability to share ideas, thoughts and experiences. In November, Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on police chiefs to look outside the service when recruiting new personnel.
Soldiers attack ‘unfair’ 1% pay rise
The Daily Telegraph reports that soldiers have warned they have been left feeling “undervalued” and that the Army faces a recruitment crisis after the Government announced that they will receive a pay rise of just one percent. Serving members of the Army say they face the “perfect storm” of below-inflation pay rises, rising taxes and the prospect of increased rents. They told the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body (AFPRB) that they were effectively getting a pay cut because of the rising cost of living and warned that they could leave the services.
In its report, the AFPRB warned that the Armed Forces will face a recruitment crisis if the private sector continues to recover and inflation continues to rise. While saying that the one percent pay rise will “broadly maintain pay comparability with the civilian sector”, the AFPRB warned that there was a risk that it could “undermine operational effectiveness” in future. The AFPRB said that the Armed Forces was already facing a significant skills shortage in areas such as engineering, where it said, “recruitment and retention is critical”.
The capping of public sector pay has been a mainstay of austerity since 2010. However, there is a growing realisation amongst many in Government that this strategy is not sustainable in the long term, particularly should the wider economy continue to grow.
RAF fighters to deploy to Romania
The Independent reports that RAF Typhoon jet fighters are set to be deployed to Romania to enhance defences around the Black Sea and “provide reassurance to allies”, according to Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. Four of the aircraft from 43 (Fighter) Squadron will lead the deployment, joining NATO's southern air policing mission, he said. He also confirmed UK investment in developing cyber warfare capabilities and skills – including the ability to launch online attacks.
It follows the deployment of the first of UK troops to Estonia last week as part of NATO’s plan to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic. Some 120 soldiers from 5th Battalion The Rifles landed at the Amari air base, 25 miles south-west of the capital Tallinn. Other NATO members, such as the US, have also deployed troops and military resources to other vulnerable former Iron Curtain states.·