This week saw heated debate over Britain’s defence spending ahead of the General Election. The Conservatives stepped up their attack on Labour, accusing Ed Miliband of deceit over Labour’s plans to renew Trident, with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon saying Ed Miliband could not be trusted on the issue. In an article for The Times, Fallon suggested that Miliband might forge a deal with the SNP – which strongly opposes the retention of Trident in Scotland – in order to become Prime Minister. Also this week, both the Conservatives and UKIP announced at least portions of their defence plans ahead of the election – although the Defence Secretary is due to make a speech next week that will likely set out the defence section of the Conservative manifesto in full.
News emerged this week in a number of national newspapers of a Scottish army recruitment sergeant who committed a series of sexual assaults on female recruits, which left a young cadet pregnant following a sexual attack. The accused was employed as a recruiting sergeant with the British Army at the Mitcham Barracks Army Careers and Information Office in Croydon.
Elsewhere it was announced that Prince Harry will be reunited with Gurkha comrades at a pageant in June to mark 200 years of the Nepalese division of the British Army. Prince Harry served alongside several Gurkha soldiers during his tour of Helmand province in 2007 and 2008. The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales are also expected to attend the Gurkha 200 Pageant on 9 June to pay tribute to the respected Nepalese soldiers. There are currently nearly 3,000 Gurkha soldiers in the British Army and under planned army reforms a Gurkha battalion will form part of the rapid reaction 16 Air Assault Brigade.
Conservatives accuse Labour of compromising Trident
The Conservative Party has escalated its claims that Labour would scrap Trident in a potential coalition deal with the SNP, with Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon personally accusing Ed Miliband of being untrustworthy for usurping his brother to take on the Labour leadership and claiming Miliband would “stab the United Kingdom in the back to become Prime Minister” by forging an alliance with SNP. Ed Miliband responded by saying that Labour had made it clear that they were committed to a permeant at-sea nuclear deterrent with four submarines, as was the expert advice from defence chiefs.
Central to Fallon’s claims was the fact that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon went on record as saying that she was prepared to support Ed Miliband in becoming Prime Minister, having previously also said her Party would never vote to renew Trident. Ed Miliband was quick to point out that Sturgeon had not ruled out supporting a Queen’s Speech which included the renewal of Trident but that the Party would specifically not vote in favour of it. The accusations against Ed Miliband’s character have fed into a wider feeling by Conservative MPs that the Party is running an overly negative campaign which is allowing Labour to regain lost ground in the polls. Meanwhile, the Defence Secretary’s accusations have received widespread condemnation across the political spectrum, with a number of senior military figures subsequently demanding that Trident not be used as an election issue.
Conservative defence plans do not include two percent NATO target
Prior to the launch of the formal launch of the Conservative Party manifesto, which is scheduled for next week, the Daily Telegraph reports exclusively that the manifesto will not include a pledge to meet the NATO commitment of spending two percent of GDP on defence. This follows intense lobbying by Britain’s defence chiefs and former senior military figures, who have urged the Government to maintain Britain’s global military presence by providing adequate funds.
US counterparts have previously expressed their concerns that should Britain fail to meet NATO requirements it would send a damaging message to European counterparts. There have been subsequent suggestions that failure to meet the spending target might damage the ‘special relationship’ with the US. David Cameron used a recent NATO summit in Wales to urge other Alliance members to meet the two percent target. The Defence Secretary is expected to announce plans to give soldiers immunity from being sued under the human rights act, as concerns grow that this is effecting performance in the field.
Labour pledges cash to protect police numbers
The Labour Party has announced it would set aside £800 million to protect neighbourhood policing if in government, also safeguarding the jobs of 10,000 police officers. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has claimed the money would be secured by scrapping elected police and crime commissioners, rationalising police back office functions and procurement, and ending the subsidy for the gun licensing scheme. Labour has not outlined what, if anything, would replace police and crime commissioners.
The Conservatives are yet to set out how they would find and make further cuts that are planned for the Home Office budget.
UKIP launches defence manifesto
UKIP launched its defence manifesto as it aimed to differentiate itself from the main political parties. Under the plans, the Party would create a new independent veteran’s minister as well as a national defence medal to be awarded by the Queen for all members of the Armed Forces. UKIP leader Nigel Farage also said that troops who had served more than 12 years would be offered jobs in the police force, prison service or border agency. Other veteran support would include priority access to social housing and fast-track access to NHS mental health services. UKIP would fund these extra services through a cut to the foreign aid budget. Mr Farage was critical of both the Conservatives and Labour’s non-committal on NATO’s two percent target and said there “wasn’t a cigarette paper” between the defence polices of the three main parties.
Argentine ambassador summoned to Foreign Office over Falkland’s defence row
A fresh dispute has erupted over the Falkland Islands as the Argentine Ambassador in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to account for recent comments made by the Argentine President criticising Britain’s defence plans in the area. Christina de Kirchner has previously said that the Falkland Islanders were “squatters” and has suggested that British oil firms could be prosecuted should they begin underwater drilling around the islands without formal permission from Argentina. Last month the Government announced two new chinook helicopters and an upgraded surface-to-air missile system as part of a new defence package for the Falklands.