This week’s main UK security and defence news has been the claim by the Unite Union Leader Len McCluskey that Labour MPs will have a free vote in Parliament on the future of Trident. The Guardian reports that Mr McCluskey said he had been assured that Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of allowing MPs, including the frontbench, to vote with their consciences. He urged Labour’s leader to announce this is the party’s position as soon as possible and “be clearer about it”.
Mr Corbyn, who personally opposes Trident along with many grassroots Labour members, has been battling over the issue of a nuclear deterrent with much of his shadow cabinet, MPs and trade unions. He has commissioned a defence review, which will be used as a lead-in to a vote on Labour’s Trident policy by party members. This could bypass opposition to a change in policy within the parliamentary party. Mr McCluskey said he had spoken to the party’s leadership about Trident as he seeks to protect the jobs of thousands of union members whose jobs rely upon the nuclear deterrent.
David Cameron has sought to exploit Labour divisions over the nuclear weapons programme and is expected to delay holding a parliamentary vote on renewing Trident nuclear weapons programme until after a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Whilst the renewal of Trident was always likely to be approved as a result of the Conservative’s parliamentary majority, a free vote for Labour MPs would allow a future parliamentary vote to pass by a wide margin.
2016 Devolved, Local and London Elections
Thursday 5 May saw elections take place for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, a number of English local authorities, as well as in London (and a number of other cities) the role of Mayor and for seats in the London Assembly.
Of greatest relevance to the DPF are the results in Scotland. Control of issues surrounding defence remains with the UK government in Westminster. However, the opposition of both the SNP, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens to the renewal of Trident reflects a broad Scottish hostility to the presence of nuclear weapons in the country. This election saw the SNP lose its majority, taking 63 of the 129 available seats – down six on its 2011 performance. The Scottish Conservatives came second with 31 seat, up 16. Scottish Labour won 24 seats, down 13. The Scottish Greens won six seats, an increase of four. And the Scottish Lib Dems remained static on five seats. The results in Scotland can be attributed to the electorate considering a range of policy issues, rather than just Trident. However, the improvement in Conservative fortunes suggests its support the renewal for Trident has not cost it votes.
In Wales, Labour is still the largest party in the Senedd, winning 29 seats – fewer than the 30 gained in 2011 and short of a majority of 31 of 60 seats. Plaid Cymru came second with 12 seats, with the Conservatives in third. UKIP came fourth and gaining their first seven seats in the Welsh Assembly. The Liberal Democrats lost four seats and now have just one seat.
With 92 English councils reporting, Labour is set to increase its share of the vote in comparison to the 2015 election, but is projected to lose seats and control of a small number of councils. However, it will retain the vast majority of its council leaderships.
Results for the Northern Ireland Assembly Election and the elections in London are expected within the next few hours.
· Tributes to two trainee RAF pilots killed in crash
Questions relating to MDP answered in the House of Commons
Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry has had two questions related to the MDP answered in the House of Commons. Both were follow-ups to earlier questions on base security, to which the Government responded by outlining the number and type of breeches in military based security that had occurred since 2014 and 2015, as well as their locations. As a follow-up, Ms Thornberry inquired as to what form of unauthorised entries were recorded in each case; which cases were investigated by (a) the MDP, (b) a military police force and (c) a local civilian police force; and which such investigations led to a prosecution.
In response, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster provided two tables, one for 2014 and 2015, which outlined the forms of unauthorised entries at each location, who investigated them, and which outcomes led to prosecutions. The table for 2014 showed that out of a total of 25 unauthorised entries listed, with three were investigated by the MDP. The table for 2015 showed that for a total of 44 unauthorised entries listed, of which five were investigated by the MDP.
The DPF met with Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry on 28 April to discuss the challenges facing the MDP, including cuts to personnel numbers, the potential for soldiers to replace MDP officers in guarding key sites, as well as issues relating to TACOS and pensions. As the leader of Labour’s Defence team, Ms Thornberry is one of the media’s leading sources of comment on the activities of the MoD, and it is therefore vital that she is kept appropriately briefed and updated.
Figures on Islamic State casualties released
The Daily Mail reports that nearly 1,000 Islamic State (IS) extremists have been killed in RAF air strikes in Iraq and Syria in the last 18 months. Some 974 militants in Iraq have been killed in action since the UK bombing campaign began in the country in September 2014, data released by the MoD under Freedom of Information laws showed. A further 22 jihadists have been killed in Syria since December after Parliament voted to extend air raids to attack the extremists' stronghold.
The MoD said there had been no civilian casualties and the figures for enemy casualties, which also include 98 injured militants, were estimates based on “post-strike analysis” because the UK cannot visit strike sites to verify the numbers dead. The RAF's campaign has intensified in recent months, with Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets attacking infrastructure targets such as oilfields and bomb factories as well as mortar and sniper positions.
Islamic State hacking group claims it has mole in MoD
The Independent reports that an Islamic State-linked hacker group claims to have a mole in the MoD, which it is using to “slowly and surely” infiltrate Britain. An organisation calling itself ‘Islamic State Hacking Division’ voiced the threat as it published a ‘hit list’ of people – regarded as targets to kill – it claimed were US drone pilots. However, despite the apparent credibility of the people featured in the hit list, the information seemed to have been gleaned through publically available information online, rather than through compromised security
The MoD declined to comment on what personnel security measures it provides for its staff. A spokesman said: “While we don’t comment on cyber threats, Britain is a world leader in cyber security and we are investing more than ever before in the UK’s capabilities to protect our national interest.”
Whilst it is questionable whether the pilot list is genuinely ‘hacked’ information, the risk to drone pilots is considered a real threat. The termination of the annual airshows at RAF Waddington is in no small part due to the bases’ status as the hub for RAF drone operations, and the risk of infiltration and attack such a public event would present to the facility.
MoD selects new drone for RAF
The Daily Telegraph reports that the MoD has announced that the RAF will be receiving a new class of armed drone to both upgrade and double the size of the existing fleet. First details of the new aircraft have been disclosed as defence officials signed a £415m contract with the Pentagon to buy twenty of the new drones to replace the RAF’s ten existing MQ-9 Reapers. The new General Atomics Certifiable Predator B, which is expected to be named Protector when used by the RAF from the end of this decade, is likely to be at the forefront of surveillance and air strike campaigns against militant and terror groups such as Islamic State.
Sonic booms heard as RAF scrambles fighters to intercept aircraft
The BBC reports that the RAF has said loud bangs heard in parts of Yorkshire were sonic booms from Typhoon jets scrambled to identify “an unresponsive civilian aircraft”. The aircraft were launched from RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, on Monday and helped guide an Air France plane to a safe landing in Newcastle. People reported their houses shaking at about 21:50 BST after hearing what sounded like two loud explosions.
An RAF spokesman said on Monday night: “Quick reaction alert Typhoon aircraft were launched today from RAF Coningsby to identify an unresponsive civilian aircraft. Communications were re-established and the aircraft has been safely landed.” Reports suggested the jets had escorted the plane after it went off course. Air France confirmed that the unresponsive civilian aircraft was one of its planes.
First British troops arrive in Somalia as part of UN mission
The Guardian reports that British troops have arrived in Somalia as part of efforts to tackle the threat from Islamist militants. The military personnel, the first of up to 70 due to be deployed there this year, are part of a UN peacekeeping mission to counter the extremist group Al-Shabaab. The group of about ten soldiers will offer medical, engineering and logistical support to the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the move reinforces the UK’s commitment to targeting terrorism around the world. He added: “This deployment is another demonstration of the flexibility and global reach of our armed forces. Alongside our efforts in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, it shows our determination to tackle terrorism wherever it rears its head.” The assignments are part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review pledge to double the number of UK troops on UN peacekeeping tasks from the 300 currently deployed.
Tributes to two trainee RAF pilots killed in crash
The Evening Standard reports that tributes have been paid this week to an “exceptionally talented” student RAF pilot from London who was killed alongside his co-pilot when their aircraft crashed in a remote field. Ajvir Singh Sandhu, 25, from Ilford, and Cameron Forster, 21, from Sussex, both died instantly when the single-engine Slingsby T67 came down. The two were both stationed at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire, an elite academy 15 miles from the crash scene where promising young pilots learn to fly fast jets. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has launched an inquiry.
Documents indicate Germany to push for EU Army
The Financial Times reports that Germany is to push for progress towards a European army by advocating a joint headquarters and shared military assets, according to a leaked defence plans that could ricochet into Britain’s EU referendum campaign. Although Berlin has long paid lip-service to forming a “European Defence Union”, the white paper is one of the most significant for Germany in recent years and may be seized by anti-integration Brexit campaigners as a sign where the bloc is heading.
Berlin is aware that its call for more European defence — long a bugbear of British Eurosceptics — could inadvertently resonate in the UK referendum campaign. Although publication was first expected in early June, this has been delayed to July, according to people familiar with the process.