This week’s main UK defence and security news has emanated from the Labour Party conference. The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn suffered a major blow to his authority after a bid by the Labour leadership to press for a vote on the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme was overwhelmingly rejected at the Party’s conference delegates.
Hours after the opening of the event in Brighton, Britain’s largest trade unions and the party membership spurned a call for the conference to hold a debate and a vote on Wednesday about whether Britain should renew Trident.
Wider defence-related discussions at the conference were led by new Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle. Her speech was relatively unremarkable, and focused on the notion of an outward looking Britain and the threats facing the UK and its interests. The BBC reports that Eagle told Labour's conference that she disagreed with leader Jeremy Corbyn's stance of scrapping Trident, but was keen to have a full and open debate.
Mr Corbyn’s main conference speech – which it later became apparent was in part derived from a speech that had been originally written in the 1980s – also touched upon security and defence issues. The Guardian reports that in the hour-long address, the party leader announced that he was prepared for a fight over Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. Corbyn told delegates in Brighton it was wrong to fund a replacement for Trident. The Labour leader also challenged the central line of attack on him by the Tories and supporters of Tony Blair – who claim that he is a threat to the nation’s security domestically and internationally – by saying that they pose the greater threat on these fronts.
Further discord emerged towards the end of the conference, when Corbyn responded to a question on the use of nuclear weapons by stating that he would never fire Trident himself. This led to Maria Eagle countering by stating that “I don't think that a potential Prime Minister answering a question like that, in the way in which he did, is helpful.” Ambiguity over the use of nuclear weapons by political leaders is vital to the concept of the UK’s deterrent.
- Russia begins air strikes in Syria
- UK sanctions Islamic State fighters
- Help for Heroes and British Army 'wasted millions on empty recovery centres'
- Plans proposed to grant chief constables the power to sack police officers
- Army launches recruitment drive amid fears of officer shortage
- RAF sergeant asked to move from hospital waiting room in case his uniform caused offence
Russia begins air strikes in Syria
The BBC reports that Russia has begun carrying out air strikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties. The US says it was informed an hour before they took place. Russian defence officials say aircraft carried out about twenty missions targeting the Islamic State, but US officials said that so far they did not appear to be targeting the group's territory. Syria's civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government. The US and its allies have insisted that President Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed its ally remaining in power. The upper house of the Russian parliament earlier granted President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy the Russian air force in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was prepared to welcome Russian military action in Syria – but only as long as it was directed against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked groups. Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, Mr Kerry said the US would have “grave concerns” if Russia conducted strikes against other groups.
UK sanctions Islamic State fighters
The Daily Telegraph reports that an Islamic State jihadist dubbed ‘Mrs Terror’ and three other British extremists have been added to a list of the world’s most wanted terrorists at the request of the Prime Minister. Sally-Anne Jones, the widow of a jihadist taken out by a British drone strike last month, and the others have had their bank accounts frozen and face detention if they attempt to travel. But the former punk rocker immediately mocked the move on Twitter and warned she would fight England “until her last breath”. Nasser Muthana, a former medical student and Islamic State recruiter, Aqsa Mahmood, who fled Glasgow in 2013, and Omar Hussain, dubbed the Supermarket Jihadi after once working as a security guard in Morrisons, are the others sanctioned.
All four were added to the UN Al Qaeda sanctions regime list – which tracks extremists – and are believed to be mainly based around Al-Raqqah, the Islamic State's stronghold in Syria. It is understood to be the first time any country has put its own citizens on the United Nations most-wanted list in connection with the fight against the Islamic State.
Plans proposed to grant chief constables the power to sack police officers
The Daily Mail reports that police chiefs want the power to sack frontline officers so they can modernise forces and save millions of pounds in wages. Chief constables admit there is “considerable support” for taking away officers' right to have a job for life. At the moment, forces are not allowed to introduce compulsory redundancies. But leaders said that unless they cut officer numbers dramatically, some forces may go bankrupt. This is because the bulk of their budgets go on wages, and not enough officers will retire or leave voluntarily to balance cuts in government grants due to come in by 2020. The move was revealed in a confidential report to ministers as they consider further cuts.
The call comes 18 months after Home Secretary Theresa May set aside proposals to introduce powers to sack officers. Police retained their right to a job for life after a police arbitration tribunal rejected proposals by Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor. However, May left the door open for the plans to be revived in the future by saying that compulsory severance was not necessary “at this time”, but adding: “However, this remains a reform that Government and the police should continue to consider.”
Help for Heroes and British Army 'wasted millions on empty recovery centres'
The Times reports that Help for Heroes and the British Army spent tens of millions of pounds on a network of recovery centres for wounded soldiers and veterans where beds have been left empty. An internal Army review seen by The Times has highlighted a series of failings in the project, which was agreed in haste when the military and Gordon Brown’s Labour government were under public pressure to do more for troops seriously injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unpublished documents and interviews with senior figures who were involved in the initiative paint a picture of an ambitious project where costs grew and decisions to spend charity and tax money were made without sufficient analysis of what was needed.
Help for Heroes said that figures for June and July showed that “men and women with life-changing injuries or illnesses used over 70 per cent of the rooms available”.
Army launches recruitment drive amid fears of officer shortage
The Daily Telegraph reports that the British Army is launching its first recruitment campaign to attract new officers in almost ten years amid a dramatic drop in applications. Officers are touring British universities to “overcome misconceptions” after one in ten posts were unfilled last year at Sandhurst, the Army's officer training academy. The drop-off reflects a steady fall in graduate recruitment into the Armed Forces as a whole over the last decade, with numbers 27 percent lower than they were in 2005. Officers have been tasked with highlighting how there is more to the job than combat roles, drawing on humanitarian work officers can carry out.
The new campaign – With Heart, With Mind – will see the Army visit universities across the UK over the next six weeks. Potential recruits can try a virtual reality Sandhurst obstacle course and a parachute jump, test their fitness in a virtual “bleep” test to see if they can beat an Army physical training instructor, and hone their leadership skills in an interactive winter aid exercise.
RAF sergeant asked to move from hospital waiting room in case his uniform caused offence
The Evening Standard reports that a Kent hospital has been forced to apologise after an injured RAF sergeant was asked to move out of a waiting room in case his uniform offended other patients. Aircraft engineer Mark Prendeville was taken to the Accident and Emergency unit of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate after chemicals from a fire extinguisher got into his eyes during a training exercise at RAF Manston. While at the hospital he was reportedly asked to move twice by hospital staff who said his uniform “might upset people” because “we have all kinds of different cultures coming in.”
A spokesman for East Kent University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “A member of the Armed Forces in uniform attended our A&E and was asked by a member of staff if he wanted to sit inside the department rather than the waiting room. This employee was acting in good faith because previously, there had been an altercation between a member of the public and a different member of the Armed Forces in uniform.”