The past month has inevitably been dominated by the referendum and the UK public’s decision to leave the European Union. The consequences of the vote have been profound – even before any steps are taken to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal. Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to stand down within hours of the final votes being counted. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been under sustained pressure from his MPs to resign, which saw mass departures from his frontbenches and an overhaul of the Shadow Cabinet. And UKIP leader Nigel Farage also announced he was leaving his post.
The announcement by David Cameron has triggered a Conservative leadership contest, the result of which will be announced on 9 September. At the time of writing, Home Secretary Theresa May is a strong favourite to be elected as the new Conservative leader. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s enforced Shadow Cabinet reshuffle has seen Clive Lewis MP appointed as Shadow Defence Secretary, succeeding Emily Thornberry, who was moved to the Shadow Foreign Secretary role.
The Prime Minister has made clear that it will be up to his successor to trigger so-called ‘Article 50’, which will begin the negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. There are a number of potential implications following the referendum. These include the possibility of further cuts to the defence budget, should a withdrawal from the European Single Market necessitate further cuts to public spending as envisaged during the referendum campaign by Chancellor George Osborne. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has also suggested the UK decision to leave the EU could prompt a second Scottish independence referendum, although there has been no suggestion of a timetable for such a vote.
Significantly for the MDP, Theresa May has argued (as part of her party leadership campaign) in favour of a parliamentary vote on the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent before the House of Commons rises for its summer recess in late-July. Such a vote would likely place further pressure on an embattled Labour Party, and would also help unite the Conservatives under a common goal. The Tories’ parliamentary majority, albeit slim, makes it likely they would win any vote on renewing the deterrent – while a majority of Labour MPs also favour renewal.
The second major issue to dominate headlines in the past month has been the publication of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War, a 2.6 million word document that has taken seven years to compile. Sir John Chilcot conclusions were very critical of the decision making process to go to war more than a decade ago, and particularly critical of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The report will be scrutinised over the coming weeks and months, and is to be debated in Parliament
prior to the summer recess. It is unlikely at this point that it will result in any form of criminal prosecutions of members of the government of the day, or its civil servants. However, families of the service personnel during the conflict have indicated they might consider civil proceedings.
During the past month, the Federation has been following up the unprecedented level of media and public attention garnered by its annual conference. This has included contacting a tranche of MPs and Members of the House of Lords to either build on previous contacts or to ensure they are fully briefed on the Federation’s concerns and challenges facing the MDP.
We have also secured a briefing with a national journalist and National Chairman Eamon Keating has met with Defence Minister Mark Lancaster following his absence from the annual conference.
The political approach
Following the annual conference, the Federation wrote to express its thanks to Defence Minister Lord Howe for attending and addressing delegates.
National Chairman Eamon Keating has also met with Mark Lancaster MP, who was unable to attend, in order to update the Minister on the Federation’s concerns – including continued delays in decisions on how the SDSR will affect the MDP; suggestions of further reductions to the MDP workforce; and any suggestion that the role of the MDP in guarding Trident could be reduced.
The Federation remains in close contact with the Minister’s office to help ensure effective security of MoD establishments and assets, while also ensuring concerns relating to national security and officers’ welfare are fully articulated.
The Federation has also contacted a number of prominent and influential backbench MPs to brief them on issues relating to the continued role of the MDP in securing the MoD’s estate and assets. This includes Patricia Gibson MP, whose constituency contains DM Beith. The purpose of these briefings is to ensure a high level of parliamentary support for the MDP is maintained – in turn facilitating the conditions for scrutiny of all government decisions relating to the Force’s role and security.
Included in this outreach has been a briefing to Jamie Reed MP, a prominent Labour backbencher and former Shadow Health Minister. Mr Reed has been vocal on the subject of Civil Nuclear Constabulary pensions in recent weeks, and the Federation has briefed him on the pensions situation faced by MDP officers.
As noted above, the Federation’s annual conference was widely reported in the national media. Central to this was the publication of a story on the keynote speeches by the Press Association – the national news agency used by the vast majority of the country’s media. Content from the Press Association, as noted in last month’s newsletter, was used in national and local publications the length and breadth of the country.
Following the level of publicity garnered by the annual conference, the Federation has secured a briefing with the Press Association correspondent who reported on Eamon Keating’s keynote speech. This meeting will take place in the coming weeks and will be with a view to the Federation providing comment for relevant news stories and reports in future.
We separately remain in contact with a range of national defence correspondents.
As noted in previous newsletters, we would remind all members that, should they wish to contact their local MP, any communication is subject to MDP regulations.