Last week's news was dominated by the House of Common’s decision to support the Government’s proposals to extend airstrikes against ISIL from Iraq into Syria. With an unexpectedly large majority the House of Commons voted in favour of military action by 397 votes to 223, with 66 Labour MPs voting with the Government. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, had decided earlier in the week to give his MPs a free vote on the issue, saying matters of war were an issue of conscience. As a long-standing pacifist Mr Corbyn made the case against military intervention and most likely allowed a free vote given the number of high-profile Labour MPs who were in favour. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Shadow Defence Secretary and Deputy Leader all supported the Government motion.
In making the case to extend airstrikes against ISIL from Iraq into Syria, David Cameron said it made no military sense to target the organisation in one country and not another, and that Britain should work with its allies to eradicate the “woman-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters”. MPs from all sides of the House noted that if Britain failed to act now following the terrorist attacks in Paris, its allies would call into question its ability and willingness to come to their defence. Mr Cameron assured the House that no British ground troops would be deployed and that British involvement would be limited to targeted airstrikes and logistic support.
The Government claims that up to 70,000 allied forces would be able to provide ground support, however this figure has been contested on numerous occasions. Concerns have also been raised at the composition and nature of these ground forces and whether military action would create a vacuum that will allow extremists within this group to take control. It has been subsequently reported that military chiefs warned David Cameron against using the figure of 70,000 in his initial statement to Parliament over concerns at the validity of the number.
Within hours of the vote being passed in Parliament, four RAF Tornado jets left their base in Akrotiri in Cyprus and carried out airstrikes against an ISIL-controlled oil field in eastern Syria. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has confirmed two Tornados and six Typhoons have left their base in RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland to join the existing eight jets at the Akrotiri base.
- Britain extends airstrikes into Syria to fight ISIL
- Chancellor changes public sector redundancy packages
- Ministry of Defence budget faces “significant risks”
- Armed police told to stop terrorist despite being in line of fire
- GCHQ admits hacking, as tribunal labels activity “illegal”
- Montenegro invited to become latest NATO member
Britain extends airstrikes into Syria to fight ISIL
After an 11 hour debate in the House of Commons MPs voted to deploy British military air force to carry out bombings against ISIL in Syria. Labour MPs were given a free vote on the issue, whilst the SNP opposed air strikes and the Liberal Democrats voted with the Government. Summing up the for the opposition, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn delivered a rousing and impassioned speech in favour of military action, in direct contradiction to his leader, which prompted rapturous applause from all sides of the House.
Many MPs called on the Prime Minister to apologise for comments he made the previous day in which he said that MPs voting against the Government motion would be “walking through the lobbies with a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”. There were large demonstrations outside Parliament as many organisations, including Stop the War and Momentum, protested at the Government’s proposed action. The Government will now join France and the US in a sustained air campaign on targets throughout Syria to “degrade and defeat” ISIL’s insurgency which began last year, a process the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said could take “years rather than months”.
Chancellor changes public sector redundancy packages
George Osborne has announced plans to reduce the terms of public sector redundancies in anticipation of up to 80,000 public sector workers being laid off following the reductions in spending announced in last week's Spending Review. The new plans will see the maximum payment for voluntary redundancy from 21 months to 15 months, whilst also reducing early retirement grants. This follows previous attempts by the Chancellor to reduce redundancy pay outs in 2010, which were soon reversed following a series of strike actions. The Government is eager to reduce the bill faced by the exchequer for redundancies, which in the last five years has totalled £2bn for 400,000 public sector workers. The Treasury will set out plans in a consultation document in the coming months.
Ministry of Defence future budget faces “significant risks”
A report by the Public Accounts Committee has accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of being “overly optimistic” in its departmental forecasting, as well as criticising the way in which the MoD managed its £34bn budget. The Committee criticised the way in which cost-cutting exercises had been handled, in particular the subcontracting of contracts to the private sector which had resulted in a 25-year contract to train pilots, which was based on outdated forecasts.
Given the shrinking size of the fleet of frontline aircraft, the military is only required to recruit 320 pilots per year, rather than the 480 originally contracted. The Committee recommended the MoD managed outsourced contracts more efficiently by updating the requirements of the contract on a regular basis. There was concern from the Committee over the handing over of budgets to military personnel who had little experience of handling large projects or outsourcing contracts.
Armed police told to stop terrorists despite being in the line of fire
The Metropolitan Police have issued guidance to firearms officers ordering them to ignore causalities and race towards terrorists to stop them killing more civilians, even if this results in them putting themselves in the direct line of fire. The guidance has been released as a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, when 130 people were killed in a jihadist inspired shooting campaign. Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan confirmed that armed officers had been advised to ignore the injured and prioritise capturing or killing terrorists.
It is understood that ISIL has changed its approach to hostage taking meaning officers would have to storm any situation immediately, rather than containing the scene first. Gallan said “we are asking them to do a different thing from what they did previously. It's not about standing back, it's about going towards the threat”. It is believed that the Met is in line for an additional 2,000 armed officers to respond to the ongoing threat of a terrorist attack in London.
GCHQ confirms computer hacking, as tribunal labels activity ‘illegal’
A security tribunal has heard that GCHQ, the Government’s intelligence and communications agency, carried out illegal hacking of phones, computers and networks around the world as it operated in “thematic” warrants that ignored privacy safeguards. The case was brought to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal after concerned privacy campaigners and internet companies complained of the agency’s intrusive behaviour. It is the first time the agency has admitted to hacking computers, however the Government denied that GCHQ had acted unlawfully as human rights law meant it had a responsibility to protect citizens.
So far this year GCHQ has helped foil six terrorist plots in the UK, which the Government said had been stopped in large part due to GCHQ’s ability to gather intelligence in this way. Given recent events in Paris it appears likely that the Home Office may proceed with the so called ‘snoopers charter’, which would extend further powers to Government agencies such as GCHQ to access online profiles and mobile communications.
Montenegro invited to become latest NATO member
The BBC has reported that Montenegro is set to become the 29th country to join the NATO alliance, sparking strong rhetoric from Russia with President Putin warning of “retaliatory actions”. The invitation to Montenegro to join NATO is the first expansion into eastern Europe since Albania and Croatia joined in 2009 and comes 16 years after NATO bombed Montenegro during the Kosovo war. With Russia's recent annexation of Crimea the alliance is eager to demonstrate its influence in the region and counteract any hostility to periphery states. Public opinion in Montenegro remains divided over membership of NATO, as the country has been a destination of large amounts of inward investment from Russia.