This week’s main security and defence news has been the claim that a new infrastructure police force is to be established. The Financial Times reports that Downing Street is planning to establish the UK’s first national armed police unit for rapid deployment in the event of a Paris-style terror attack. The proposal, said to be currently under review by police chiefs, would combine firearms officers from the British Transport Police (BTP), the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) and the MDP to create a 4,000-strong armed force under one central command. The new unit, known as the Armed Infrastructure Constabulary, would be a highly-mobile team with unified systems and communications. Its brief would be to protect national infrastructure as well as responding quickly to marauding attacks such as the recent terror incidents in Paris, Nice and Munich. The unit is distinct from the proposal, announced by David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, to bolster Britain’s resilience to a terrorist incident by ordering police leaders to train an extra 1,500 firearms officers. Those personnel will be part of local police forces under the control of 43 separate police chiefs.
Coupled with the increasing presence of armed officers at airports, major sporting events and concerts, the armed unit would present a cultural shift in British crime-fighting which has traditionally relied on policing by consent. Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation think-tank, said this sort of policy was an “inevitable” response to terror attacks on the continent which involved perpetrators using firearms to create mass casualties.
But he also warned that while the MDP and CNC are involved in heavily-armed guarding of relatively remote military bases and nuclear plants, British Transport Police have far fewer armed officers and are much more public-facing. “If you merge organisations that use armed officers in different roles, you don’t want a creeping of specialist methods into new contexts,” he said. “You don’t want an armed force regularly patrolling the trains, for instance.” The plans are currently under consideration by the Cabinet’s Domestic Affairs committee.
This story was also reported in The Times, Evening Standard, Daily Express and The Sun amongst other outlets. However, they all used the original story in the Financial Times as their primary source.
The proposal to develop an ‘Armed Infrastructure Constabulary’ is only one possible outcome of an ongoing Government review of infrastructure policing, and no decisions have yet been taken – which is evidenced by the refusal of the Home Office to comment on the Financial Times report. The DPF is currently engaged in dialogue with all relevant parties, and will engage with parliamentarians and journalists as required and once further information on the proposals is available.
· SNP to launch new bid for Scottish independence
· Soldiers face jail over stolen equipment
· Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
· British steel could have gone into Trident subs
· Army fitness levels fall
· Royal Navy submarine put lives on County Down trawler 'at risk'
SNP to launch new bid for Scottish independence
The BBC reports that a consultation on plans for a second Scottish independence referendum is to launched, following an announcement by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Ms Sturgeon told the Party's Glasgow conference that a consultation on an Independence Referendum Bill would be launched next week. It marks the first step to holding a second vote. The first referendum, which took place on 18 September 2014, resulted in 55% of voters saying “no” to Scottish independence.
Ms Sturgeon told delegates that Scotland had the right to seek something better if there were prospects of an unstable future as part of the UK. She said: “I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence and to do so before the UK leaves the EU – if that is necessary to protect our country's interests. So, I can confirm today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week.” On 24 June, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU, Ms Sturgeon said a second independence referendum was “highly likely”. Those who voted in Scotland backed remaining in Europe by 62% to 38% while the UK as a whole backed leave, by a margin of 52% to 48%.
The mechanics of a second vote would take some time to implement, and current polls show a majority of the Scottish population opposed to independence. Scotland would also face major financial challenges as an independent country. Ms Sturgeon has set out a range of new devolved powers she is seeking to protect Scotland from possible implications of Brexit, and the launch of the consultation is likely a negotiating ploy to secure further authority for the Scottish Parliament. We will review the consultation terms of reference when published, should there be a need for the DPF to engage with the consultation.
Soldiers face jail over stolen equipment
The Sun reports that two soldiers are facing jail after stealing more than £44,000 of equipment from the SAS. Army stores NCOs Craig Davenport and Stephen Suffield stole equipment to order from the SAS’s base in Hereford, including night vision goggles, stun grenades, flare launchers and body armour. The recipient of the goods was Andrew Stevens, who then sold it on to contacts in the Far East. Military police fear some gear may have found its way to criminals or terror groups.
The trio set up a Whatsapp group called “Boys Toys” where they discussed what items could be taken from SAS storerooms. Sergeant Davenport, 33, posted photos of shelves full of gear and gave Stevens a “shopping list” of equipment he could sell to Japan and Hong Kong. He covered his tracks by setting up a fake ID for a “Sgt Smith” using the registration number of a trooper who retired from the SAS in 2008. He masked the thefts by claiming items had been sent for repair. They got away with the scheme nine months until Stevens tried to smuggle gear to Hong Kong on a jet at Heathrow. Radioactive material in night vision goggles set off airport security scanners. Davenport was arrested a few days later. Stores manager Suffield, in his 30s, was flown home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The trio all pleaded guilty at a Portsmouth crown court hearing.
Question on MDP answered in the House of Commons
The now former Shadow Defence Minister Clive Lewis has had had two questions relating to the MDP answered by the Government. Mr Lewis asked:
· how many reports of disturbances to military wrecks designated as protected sites under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 were received by the MDP in each of the last six years.
· how many investigations were carried out by the MDP into alleged offences under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 in each of the last six years.
Answering the questions collectively, Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin MP said that the MDP had carried out the following number of investigations into thefts or alleged thefts under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986: 1 in 2010; 6 in 2011; 1 in 2012; 0 in 2013; 0 in 2014; and 1 in 2015.
British steel could have gone into Trident subs
The Daily Telegraph reports that the scandal over BAE Systems’ decision to use French steel to build Britain’s new Trident submarines has intensified, with claims the metal could have been produced in the UK after all. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon ceremonially started work on the £41bn project last week, with a cutting of the first steel plate for the “Successor” submarines at BAE's plant in Barrow on Furness. However, the event was overshadowed by news the steel came from French group Industeel.
However, The Telegraph now understands that Tata Steel UK had been weighing up whether it could provide the steel for the pressure hulls of the 17,200-tonne submarines. Sources within the industry claim that BAE changed the specification of the steel, meaning Tata had to run tests to see it could meet the new requirements. But before the company could complete these trials, Tata was told the contract had gone to Industeel. Earlier this year Tata sold the plate mills where the steel would have been produced, and the company declined to comment on the submarine contract.
Labour appoint new shadow defence minister
As part of Labour’s ongoing reshuffle, Wayne David MP has been appointed as a shadow defence minister. His portfolio is not yet clear, but he will work under the also newly appointed Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith. Mr David said that he has agreed to go back to the front bench following his resignation from a shadow Scottish Office position in June on the understanding that he could continue to support multilateral disarmament and the renewal of the Trident nuclear system. This will put him in opposition to Jeremy Corbyn and Nia Griffith, who both favour unilateral disarmament.
Mr David has previously served as a Private Parliamentary Secretary (PPS) to Adam Ingram MP whilst he was a defence minister from 2005 to 2006, as a government whip from 2007 to 2008, and as a minister in the Welsh Office from 2008 to 2010. In opposition, he has served as a shadow minister for Europe, Justice, the Cabinet Office and the Scottish Office. He has also served as a PPS to both Ed Miliband (whilst Labour leader) and Harriet Harman MP. He has held his Welsh seat of Caerphilly since 2010.
Once his portfolio of responsibilities has become clear, we will approach Mr Smith to ensure that he is appropriately briefed on the role and importance of the MDP in supporting UK security.
Army fitness levels fall
The Daily Telegraph reports that the proportion of Army soldiers failing fitness tests has nearly doubled in three years amid concerns that personnel are losing focus because they are not being sent to war. Female troops are also narrowing the gap with their male counterparts after years of falling behind, the newspaper reports. In 2013, 7,120 – or 9.6 per cent – of the 74,010 personnel who were made to complete personal fitness assessments failed at least one, according to figures released by the MoD. In comparison, between January and mid-September this year 11,300 troops – around 17.7 per cent – out of a possible 63,910 tested failed one or more. When looking at body mass index, more than 31,900 serving personnel were also found to be overweight or obese in the last three years.
The MoD said basic fitness tests had not changed over the past three years. All Army personnel are required to take personal fitness assessments, including sit-ups, press-ups and a 1.5-mile run, twice a year. Three years ago, just over 12 per cent of females tested failed at least once, while 9.4 per cent of men did. This year, 18.8 per cent of women and 17.6 per cent of men failed one or more assessments.
Royal Navy submarine put lives on County Down trawler 'at risk'
The BBC reports that the actions of a Royal Navy submarine put the lives of the crew of a County Down trawler at risk, an accident investigation has found. Fifteen miles off Ardglass, the Karen had its nets caught and was dragged backwards for 30 seconds last April. It had four crew on board when it almost capsized and was only saved when its net snapped. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch said it was due to the submarine command team's “insufficient planning”. They had also “failed to follow guidance on fishing vessel avoidance”, it said. The collision presented a significant risk to the submarine based at Faslane in Scotland, the report said.
The skipper of the Karen, Paul Murphy, said the Royal Navy had been playing “Russian roulette” in the Irish Sea that day. Royal Navy spokesperson said: “We have expressed our regret and remain sorry for the incident and delay in confirming our involvement. We've revised our procedures to reduce the risk that such an incident could happen again.”