This week's main UK security and defence news has been the publication by the Government of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill. The BBC reports that under the legislation, the internet activity of everyone in Britain will have to be stored for a year by service providers, with police and intelligence officers able to see the names of sites people have visited without a warrant. But there would be new safeguards over MI5, MI6 and the police spying on the full content of people's web use. The Bill seeks to collate all the new rules concerning government surveillance powers under a single law.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs the proposed powers were needed to fight crime and terrorism. The wide-ranging draft Investigatory Powers Bill also contains proposals covering how the state can hack devices and run operations to sweep up large amounts of data as it flows through the internet, enshrining in law the previously covert activities of GCHQ, as uncovered by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Mrs May told MPs the draft bill was a “significant departure” from previous plans, dubbed the “snooper's charter” by critics, which were blocked by the Lib Dems, and will “provide some of the strongest protections and safeguards anywhere in the democratic world and an approach that sets new standards for openness, transparency and oversight”.
The bill was broadly welcomed by Labour and to a lesser extent by the Lib Dems, but is likely to face opposition from civil liberty campaigners.
- UK intelligence believes Islamic State brought down Russian passenger aircraft
- David Cameron shelves plans for Commons vote on Syria strikes
- Labour in internal conflict over Trident
- Migrant crisis: Disturbances at UK military base in Cyprus
- Reports that plan to buy new anti-submarine warfare aircraft scrapped
- Inquest into soldier who died after a physical “beasting” punishment
- Army offers soldiers £4,000 bonus to become clerks
- Timetable of British Army withdrawal from Germany confirmed
- MDP seize tank collection
UK intelligence believes Islamic State brought down Russian passenger aircraft
The Times reports that more evidence has emerged that an Islamic State bomb was smuggled onto a Russian jet in passenger luggage before it exploded over Egypt. On Wednesday, a joint US-British intelligence operation used satellites to uncover electronic communications between militants in Syria and Sinai. The breakthrough came four days after Metrojet Flight 9268 exploded over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. The tone and content of the messages convinced analysts that a bomb had been carried on board by a passenger or a member of the airport ground staff.
Hours later, Downing Street declared that a bomb was likely to have brought down the jet. It grounded flights between Britain and the Red Sea resort, leaving 20,000 British holidaymakers stranded and provoking a diplomatic row with Egypt on the eve of President Sisi’s first official visit. No 10 confirmed that it had held concerns about security at Sharm el-Sheikh for at least ten months. A team of British security experts visited the resort and its airport late last year.
David Cameron shelves plans for Commons vote on Syria strikes
The Financial Times report that David Cameron has shelved plans to seek parliamentary approval for the UK to bomb Islamic State targets in Syria, in the wake of Russia’s military campaign against rebel groups in the war-torn country. The Prime Minister would still like to win support in the House of Commons for extending RAF air strikes against Isis in Iraq to include Syria but is reconsidering whether to push for a motion, say Whitehall sources. Any move to try to win the support of the Commons is not imminent, Downing Street and MoD sources say. Before Russia began strikes in September in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, officials in Downing Street and the MoD thought the Government could win the support of parliament if it sought approval for the extension of UK action, even though it believed any vote would be tight.
The re-evaluation by Downing Street came as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee published a report recommending that the Government refrains from bringing to the Commons a motion requesting support for air strikes in Syria.
Labour in internal conflict over Trident
The Guardian reports that the Scottish Labour Party has voted overwhelmingly to abandon the replacement of Trident nuclear weapons, adding to pressure on the party’s Westminster leaders to review its pro-nuclear defence policy. The vote, carried by 70 per cent of Labour constituencies and trade union members, will strengthen Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to force the UK party into carrying out what he described last week as a “serious and positive” debate on ending Labour’s formal support for renewing Trident. Describing nuclear weapons as “a mortal threat to humanity’s survival” and “massively expensive”, the Scottish Labour motion said renewing Trident would encourage nuclear proliferation. It said it was immoral to spend billions on the system at a time of worsening austerity in public spending.
The following day, Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary, sought to assert her authority over Scottish Labour, saying the wider Labour party’s defence policy is determined at a UK level and it remains committed to the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme. Her remarks reflect anger in parts of the shadow cabinet that Corbyn decided to encourage Scottish Labour to reject Trident even though it had been agreed there would be a review of Labour’s defence policy, including on the nuclear deterrent.
Migrant crisis: Disturbances at UK military base in Cyprus
The BBC reports that footage has emerged showing a series of disturbances by migrants who want to leave a UK military base in Cyprus. It shows tents on fire, people trying to climb fences and one person shouting “We are people, not animals”. The group landed at RAF Akrotiri last month and have been at a temporary camp elsewhere while their asylum applications are processed by Cyprus. The MoD says the 100 migrants – mostly Syrians – are being given three meals a day and shelter. The footage appears to have been filmed on a smartphone by one of the migrants at the camp, which has been set up at another military station in the east of the island. One clip appears to show a man threatening to hang himself before British police officers arrive. In another, a young boy complains about the cold, saying he had only flip flops to wear on his feet.
A Government spokesman said: “We are aware of a series of incidents at the temporary accommodation facility in Cyprus”, adding: “We continue to work closely with the Cypriot authorities to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. The UK government will not allow a new migrant route to open up to the UK.”
Reports that plan to buy new anti-submarine warfare aircraft scrapped
The Sunday Times reports that the MoD is understood to have dropped a £2bn plan to buy a fleet of US-made submarine-hunting jets for the RAF. The proposed purchase of up to nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft was expected to be the centrepiece of the Government’s forthcoming defence review, but sources say the project has been shelved after ministers decided the aircraft were “fiendishly expensive”.
Sources said Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has ordered a rethink after receiving costs from Boeing. Each P-8, a modified 737 airliner, is thought to cost about £100m. It is understood that Mr Fallon was also concerned that the deal would involve few UK firms. It is believed the Defence Secretary hopes to fill the “capability gap” with a cheaper “interim solution”, possibly by installing anti-submarine warfare equipment into C-130J Hercules transport aircraft or Spanish-made C295s. In the longer term he is believed to want to review new submarine hunting technology and drones.
The purchase of either an “interim solution” or investing in a system still in development would be likely to cost far more in the long-term than buying the P-8.
Inquest into soldier who died after a physical “beasting” punishment
The Daily Telegraph reports that a soldier who died after a physical “beasting” punishment given for setting off a fire extinguisher at an officer's guest was seen by comrades struggling to cope and exhausted before he collapsed. Pte Gavin Williams was seen in a “s**t state” by comrades as he was marched around and given a gym session during a hot summer day. The 22-year-old from Hengoed, Caerphilly, collapsed from heat exhaustion and died of a heart attack soon after the session at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth, Wilts. The court heard Pte Williams, of 2nd Bn The Royal Welsh Regiment, had recently gone AWOL but returned to barracks and had just returned from a drunken weekend with friends.
Army offers soldiers £4,000 bonus to become clerks
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Army is offering soldiers a £4,000 bonus to become military clerks because a severe shortage of admin staff has left major delays sorting out troops' problems with pay and allowances. Commanders say they need to urgently hire another 200 staff clerks each year and have authorised the payment to persuade soldiers to transfer to the Army’s Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC). Military sources said admin backlogs had become so severe that soldiers were in some cases having to wait years to have problems with pay and expenses resolved. The bonus was authorised last month for soldiers from any regiment who volunteer to join the ranks of the Staff and Personnel Support (SPS) branch of the administrative unit.
Timetable of British Army withdrawal from Germany confirmed
The MoD has confirmed that the final field Army units will return from Germany in 2019. The final units, including those from 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade, currently based around Paderborn and Sennelager in Germany, will return to their new home on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire in the final phase of the Army Basing Programme. In line with commitments made in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Army Basing Programme has already successfully relocated around 74 per cent of personnel from Germany since 2010. The timing of the move has been confirmed ahead of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review to provide certainty to Army and civilian personnel, and their families, allowing them to plan for the future.
MDP seize tank collection
The Halsted Gazette reports that fourteen tanks and a number of other pieces of equipment have been seized as part of an operation by the MDP. Four of the tanks, a landing craft and anti-aircraft gun were seen by witnesses passing though Sible Hedingham on Tuesday at about 11am. A spokesman for the MDP Headquarters, based at nearby Wethersfield, confirmed that the tanks are expected to make their way to the MDP base in Wethersfield. He said: “The tanks have been seized as part of an ongoing police investigation”, adding: ““They have come from across Europe but the MOD police are currently investigating whether the tanks were acquired in the proper manner for a legitimate museum.”
The spokesman declined to comment further on where the tanks were being held or why an investigation was being carried out. He added it was not illegal to own a tank, as long as it was acquired in a legal fashion.