The terrorist attacks in Paris have dominated the headlines during the past month, in turn focusing attention on the British response and coinciding with the publication of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to cover the next five years.
The contents of the SDSR were kept largely confidential prior to publication, and indeed full details of the Review’s content are still being published. However, in broad terms, the SDSR committed the Government to bolstering the MoD equipment budget; providing additional funding for cyber security and special forces; adding to the UK’s combat air capacity; and creating two rapid reaction expeditionary forces from current Army numbers.
Two days after the publication of the SDSR, the Government published its Comprehensive Spending Review. Despite much speculation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not announce cuts to the funding of Home Office constabularies. The Review also reiterated the Government’s commitment to meeting the NATO spending target of two percent of GDP on defence – albeit with the inclusion of intelligence spending for the likes of GCHQ.
While the MoD did fare better than many other government departments in the spending review, the SDSR did commit the MoD to substantial reductions in civilian personnel. The Federation is therefore acutely aware of the continuing threat to the MDP.
The second major defence story of the month followed the horrendous attacks in Paris. The Prime Minister successfully pressed the case for the extension of UK airstrikes to Syria, winning a House of Commons vote that simultaneously exposed divisions within the Labour leadership. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a committed pacifist, refused to support the motion and was joined by a majority of his MPs – but was forced to allow Labour Members a ‘free vote’ in response to sustained insistence from both his back and front benches.
The parliamentary debate was particularly notable for the speech of Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, who spoke in support of airstrikes and in opposition to his own party leader. A total of 11 shadow ministers voted with the Prime Minister, including Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle.
The MoD confirmed the first airstrikes in Syria took place just hours after the Commons’ motion was passed.
The Federation of course expresses its deepest condolences to the victims of the Paris attacks and to their families and friends.
The political approach
The Federation’s work during the past month has been dominated by the implications of the SDSR and by continuing discussions with the MoD over TACOS.
The MoD has now presented the Federation with a revised TACOS offer. As a result the DPF have returned to our members with a counter offer that has been submitted for ballot by our membership. We will of course keep members fully informed on the discussions with departmental officials, and will be highlighting TACOS in meetings with a number of parliamentarians over the coming month.
As noted above, the full content and implications of the SDSR are yet to be revealed and published, but with the MoD’s commitment to reducing its civilian workforce, the DPF will be robustly reiterating the case for the MDP over the coming weeks and months.
Central to this – and in addition to noting the vital role of the MDP in securing the MoD estate and assets – will be consideration of the armed civilian policing capacity the MDP is capable of deploying; how this can be utilised to ensure national security; and the consequences to that capacity and national security of any further reduction in officer numbers.
To this end, the Federation has confirmed meetings with a number of senior parliamentarians over the coming month. The DPF remains committed to engaging very constructively with the MoD and all stakeholders – but in anxious to ensure the full value of the MDP is clearly understood, and that MoD plans for security of the defence estate are robustly and fairly scrutinised.
Federation National Chairman Eamon Keating will also be meeting with the Minister, Mark Lancaster MP, to discuss issues including TACOS and the SDSR before Christmas.
We will of course keep members fully informed of progress and outcomes from these meetings. Our engagement will also include members of the Defence Select Committee and senior defence opinion formers and commentators.
The Federation has intentionally refrained from media engagement that would generate headlines prior to a clear understanding of the content of the SDSR, and its implications for the MDP.
This is in line with the Federation’s commitment to engaging constructively with parliamentarians and MoD officials.
In the coming weeks, we will be briefing a number of national defence correspondents on the implications of the SDSR, and how the role of the MDP might be affected.
Local lobbying and member activity
We remain very grateful to those members who have contacted their local MPs, but of course would reiterate previous reminders that any communication is subject to MDP regulations.
Finally, we would like to wish all members a very happy Christmas and New Year.