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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 01st May 2017

By DPF Admin5th May 2017August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

This week’s main UK defence news has been the claim that the MoD is facing a shortfall of billions of pounds. The Sunday Times reports that there may be a need to partially reopen the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) as a result of a funding crisis that may leave the MoD up to £10bn short in its purchasing and maintaining of new equipment. The article speculates that key projects such as the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, the purchase of 50 new Apache helicopters and a procuring of a new fleet of armoured vehicles for the British Army could be cancelled or delayed. Additionally, it is alleged that the MoD has also put in place a hiring freeze in certain sectors of the department. The newspaper also speculates over the future of Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, with a claim that he will be held responsible, as the loss of control of spending has largely happened under his watch.

There are also claims that the Conservatives may embark on a small-scale defence review following the election. Although no formal decision has been taken, the exercise would resemble the 2002 “New Chapter” review which built upon the 1998 Strategic Defence Review following the 11th September terrorist attacks.

This report is the latest in a long line of claims that the MoD is under extreme financial pressure, although the first to suggest either that the Defence Secretary may not continue in his current position or that the 2015 SDSR itself was at risk of significant changes. Given the pressure on the MoD’s budget, it seems likely that any review would seek to delay purchasing new equipment instead of cancelling it – although this would inevitably increase costs in the long run. It is unlikely that the Conservatives’ intentions on defence spending will become clear when the Party publishes its manifesto on 8th May.

·       Man arrested in Westminster carrying knifes

·       Woman shot as police foil ‘active terror plot’

·       Police receive ‘3,000 terrorism tip-offs in last two months’

·       Devon student guilty of planting homemade bomb on London tube

·       Prepare children for terrorist attacks, says Met chief

·       Britain set to remain largest defence spender in EU

·       Labour pledge additional 10,000 police

·       MPs voice concerns over British Army plans

·       New government ‘may call new vote on Syria strikes’

·       ‘Marine A’ released from prison

Man arrested in Westminster carrying knifes

The BBC reports that the terrorism suspect arrested near the Houses of Parliament has been named as Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali. The 27-year-old was detained as part of an ‘intelligence-led’ operation. He was arrested in Parliament Street, at the junction with Parliament Square, following a stop and search as part of an ongoing operation, police said. They added that knives had been “recovered from him” but said there was “no immediate known threat” as a result of the arrest. A witness described having seen two knives on the ground, one of which he said was a large bread knife. Mr Ali was held on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and preparing for acts of terrorism.

Mr Ali is thought to be a UK national from an Ethiopian background and to have gone to school in Tottenham, north London.  He is still being held in custody at a south London police station. He was known to the police and the security service MI5. It has also been reported that he had claimed that he was approached by MI5 last year. His family home has been subjected to searches by counter-terrorism investigators. It is understood that his arrest followed a tip-off to police from a member of the Muslim community concerned about Mr Ali’s behaviour.

This incident follows closely behind the Westminster terrorist attack of 22nd March which resulted in the death of six people, including police officer PC Keith Palmer and the attack’s perpetrator. It would seem likely that officers moved on Mr Ali over fears that he intended to take similar action.

Woman shot as police foil ‘active terror plot’

The Daily Telegraph reports that a woman shot and injured after police launched an armed raid and foiled an active terror plot has been discharged from hospital and arrested. Armed officers carried out a “specialist entry” into a terraced property in Harlesden Road shortly before 7pm on Thursday night. A further six people were also arrested in connection with the raid, including five at or near the address in north London and one in Kent. Aged between 16 and 43, they were all arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of terrorist acts and taken to a south London police station for questioning. A police spokesperson said the address and people connected to it has been under observation by counter terrorism officers as part of an ongoing “intelligence-led” operation.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu confirmed after the raid that an active terror plot had been foiled. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has been informed of the incident, as is routine with police shootings, along with the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards.

Police receive ‘3,000 terrorism tip-offs in last two months’

The BBC reports that police have received more than 3,000 tip-offs by the public about possible terrorist activity in the last two months. The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said a significant number of calls had been made after the Westminster attack. It said that despite most of the information being false alarms, some of the calls had resulted in further action.

Speaking at a conference in London, the NPCC's lead for protective security said authorities had also received 300 referrals about extremist material online. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D'Orsi said: “The increased response from the general public and from professionals whose job it is to keep people safe within crowded places, has been really heartening,” adding “We need to exploit every possible way of keeping people safe and do all we can to keep everyone vigilant.”

Devon student guilty of planting homemade bomb on London tube

The Guardian reports that a student from Devon has been found guilty of planting a homemade bomb filled with ball bearings on the tube, after a jury rejected his claim that it was meant to be a prank. Damon Smith, 20, pleaded guilty to perpetrating a bomb hoax but said he intended the device to work as a smoke bomb to stop the train “for a bit of fun.”

Mr Smith has Asperger syndrome and took a keen interest in weapons, which might have been connected to his condition, a jury at the Old Bailey in London heard during his five-day trial. He was 19 when he left a rucksack containing the bomb on a Jubilee line underground train on the morning of 20th October 2016. Passengers discovered the bomb and alerted the driver. Sentencing has been deferred until 26th May at the earliest.

Prepare children for terrorist attacks, says Met chief

The Daily Telegraph reports that children must be taught how to deal with a terrorist attack in the same way they have been told to be wary of strangers, a senior Scotland Yard officer has said. The Government’s campaign informing members of the public how to keep safe if they are caught in a terrorist rampage must also be taught to children, according to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokes- man for protective security.

The Government launched its “Run, Hide, Tell” campaign in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead. Ms D’Orsi said: “When I was at school, everybody used to talk about stranger danger and that was the sort of buzz phrase and it’s still a thing I remember today.” She added: “Run Hide Tell, for me that messaging needs to be to children as well as to the broader public. The need to share the Run, Hide, Tell message in the same way I had stranger danger is exceptionally important.”

Britain set to remain largest defence spender in EU

City AM reports that The UK is set to continue spending more than any other nation in Europe on defence this year, as nations across the continent build up their militaries in response to a perceived increase in threats. Britain will spend £37.42bn on its military this year, up from £37.22bn in 2016, according to defence analysts Jane’s. The UK’s investment in defence is set to increase by an annual average of 2.1 per cent in dollar terms over the next four years, the report shows. Britain’s closest competitor, Frances, will spend £34.22bn in 2017.

European NATO’s budgets averaged 1.3 per cent of GBP in 2014, down from 1.6 per cent in 2005. However, with a perceived increase in threats from terrorism at home as well as ongoing wars in the Middle East and the threat from Russia, support for increased spending is rising.

Labour pledge additional 10,000 police

The Guardian reports that Labour has pledged to put 10,000 additional police on to the streets of England and Wales in a policy designed to challenge the Conservatives in their own political territory of law and order. Jeremy Corbyn has promised to fund the extra “bobbies on the beat” by reversing Conservative cuts to capital gains tax if he wins next month’s General Election. Under Labour’s plan, funding would be provided for the 43 forces in England and Wales to recruit 10,000 additional officers in community policing roles – the equivalent of one officer for every electoral ward.

The Conservatives criticised Labour’s plans, saying it had already promised to spend the CGT savings on schools, welfare and the arts. Brandon Lewis, the Policing Minister, said: “This is just another nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea, which he can’t pay for because his sums don’t add up and he’s already spent the money for it three other ways.”

The announcement was intended to be a major policy pledge to demonstrate Labour’s commitment to law and order. However, the policy launch was overshadowed when Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbot misstated the cost figures for the plan during an interview on LBC Radio.

MPs voice concerns over British Army plans

The Sun reports that Army plans to create a new 40,000 strong warfighting division “will not become reality” under current plans, MPs have warned. The Defence Select Committee has published a report warning if dire recruitment is not improved, and extra money not provided, the warfighting division will never materialise. Plans for the new division were unveiled in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, has now warned the MoD must spend more than the NATO target of two per cent of GDP on defence to meet all its ambitions – including the new unit. He said: “To be a credible force, the division must be fully manned and fully equipped,” adding “The MoD’s future equipment plans are heavily dependent on identifying and achieving billions of pounds in so-called ‘efficiency savings’ over the decade ahead.”

Creating a deployable force of 40,000 out of an Army of only 82,000 regulars and 30,000 reservists was always going to be a major challenge. It is therefore vital that soldiers not be needlessly tied down with UK-based duties. The DPF will continue to oppose any efforts to displace MDP officers with Armed Forces personnel.

New government ‘may call new vote on Syria strikes’

The Guardian reports that the Government is considering holding a vote to expand military action in Syria if the Conservatives win a big enough majority in the general election. Theresa May is believed to want Commons backing in order to have the freedom to join the US in airstrikes against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the event of another chemical attack on the rebels, according to a Whitehall source. US President Donald Trump, in one of his first interventions overseas, ordered a strike against a Syrian airbase on 4th April after an alleged use of chemical weapons against rebels at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

For the UK to mount similar punitive action against Syrian forces, the Government would have to overturn a Common vote in 2013, when MPs, including Conservative rebels, voted against action against Assad after an earlier alleged chemical attack.

It seems difficult to believe that another vote on this matter will be a Government priority. However, given the speed with which the US administration reacted to the Syrian attack, it may be that ‘pre-approval’ is the only practical way for the UK to participate in future action. 

‘Marine A’ released from prison

The Guardian reports that Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine sergeant jailed for killing a wounded Taliban fighter, has been released after serving three and a half years in prison.  Mr Blackman – known as Marine A during his original court martial – and his wife, Claire, departed the prison in Wiltshire hiding under a blanket in the back of a police car. Friends and supporters who campaigned tirelessly for his release said he would need time to readjust to a new life both out of prison and out of the Marines.

Mr Blackman was convicted in 2013 of murdering a Taliban prisoner while on tour in Helmand province in Afghanistan and jailed for life. After a campaign led by his wife and taken up by the Daily Mail, the conviction was quashed when the court martial appeal court ruled he had been suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the shooting in 2011. His conviction was replaced with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and his sentence reduced from life to seven years.

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