Defence news this week has focused on the continuing feud between Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. After allies of both had issued strongly worded critiques, Mr Williamson struck a more conciliatory tone this week, noting that the Treasury had paid its outstanding bill to the MoD and the Chancellor was again allowed to use the RAF’s planes for official business. Mr Williamson also noted that he is “sure” Mr Hammond is “always very thoughtful in everything he says.” However, it should be noted that media reports over the weekend suggested the Prime Minister was forced to intervene in a shouting match between the two Cabinet ministers. Mr Williamson had also been described as juvenile by Lord Macdonald at the beginning of the week for claiming that British jihadists should be “eliminated.”
There was also a major breakthrough in Brexit negotiations at the end of last week as the UK and the EU agreed that sufficient progress has been made for discussions to move on from the divorce settlement to the future trade agreement. The decision is expected to be confirmed at the EU leaders’ summit tomorrow. Prime Minister Theresa May has previously said that the UK will continue to support the EU on matters of defence and security regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.
MoD set to ask for new defence review and £4bn
The Times has reported that the MoD is set to ask for a £4bn bailout over the next two years, and for the review of the SDSR to be elevated to a formal strategic defence review in 2018. The funding would prevent controversial proposed cuts to the Armed Forces and their capabilities, and to improve efficiency in equipment maintenance and back office functions. It is a significantly higher ask than reports last week that the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, would ask for £2bn extra funding, adding to a burgeoning reputation for Mr Williamson as a Defence Secretary willing to fight his corner for additional funding. Senior figures in the MoD had expressed some concerns that arguments for additional funding could be stifled by the loss of very senior Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary.
A fresh Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) would enable the MoD to set new defence priorities and reasonably ask for more funding. However, SDSRs are scheduled to take place every five years, and so the MoD’s request would bring it forward by two years. There is little appetite in Downing Street for a full defence review to be commissioned this early and the SDSR Review, led by the Cabinet Office, is considered something of a compromise. A final draft of the SDSR Review, led by National Security Advisor Mark Sedwill, is due to be presented to the Prime Minister next week (although speculation has been that the document is unlikely to be published before 2018) but is unlikely to recommend more funding for the Armed Forces. This will present a further challenge in terms of the MoD budget for the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
The DPF has written to Mark Sedwill to outline its concerns and request a meeting with his team. We will continue to engage with the SDSR review, and are confirming a meeting with the MoD officials supporting Mr Sedwill’s work.
Gavin Williamson criticised for “juvenile” comments
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been forced to defend comments he made in the Daily Mail last week that British jihadists should be “eliminated” and that “a dead terrorist can’t cause harm to Britain”, The Times has reported. Defending his comments at the opening ceremony of HMS Queen Elizabeth – expanded on below – Mr Williamson said, “The British people want to make sure that our streets are safe.” Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, supported Mr Williamson, saying, “you fight a war by killing your enemy.”
However, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have refused to defend the comments, with a spokesperson for Theresa May saying that such people should face the legal consequences; while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson praised the words of Mr Williamson’s predecessor, Sir Michael Fallon, acknowledging that those who go to fight make themselves legitimate targets of the British Armed Forces. Another Government source was quoted saying Mr Williamson “shows all the signs of a child who knows nothing about operations.”
Criticism of Mr Williamson’s comments have come from across the political spectrum. Liberal Democrat peer and former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald called Mr Williamson’s words “juvenile” on the BBC World at One, and his colleague, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell, said that Mr Williamson’s “gung ho opinions […] undermine the British Armed Forces.” Labour MP and former paratrooper, Dan Jarvis, said his comments were “morally, legally and practically wrong”.
Armed Forces face delay in pay rise
The Sunday Times has reported that the Armed Forces are to face a two-month delay in their annual pay award next year. Whitehall sources say the announcement as to whether the one per cent pay rise cap will be lifted was scheduled to be made in April, but now will not come into effect until June.
The Government noted that pay would be backdated. It attributed the delay to the Budget being held in November, instead of March as it had been previously. Public sector workers in other sectors could also face similar delays. Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wrote a letter to the Armed Forces Pay Review Board saying that it was better to working to “a later timeline” that to condense the pay award process. Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, has said the delay is “completely unacceptable” and called on the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to sort it out “asap.”
The DPF met with Shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, and Shadow Defence Minister, Gerald Jones, in July, and will seek a follow-up meeting with them in the New Year. Mr Jones also attended the DPF parliamentary reception on 5th December.
Queen welcomes HMS Queen Elizabeth into Royal Navy
Britain’s largest ever warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was commissioned into the Royal Navy this week, having cost £3.1bn and weighing 65,000 tonnes, The Times has reported. Captain Jerry Kyd will command the 280m-long ship which currently has 700 crew aboard. The namesake of the vessel, HM Queen Elizabeth II, led the ceremony at which Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson gave a speech, saying that the vessel was “at the core of our efforts to build an Armed Forces fit for the future.” F-35B Lightning Fighter jets are scheduled to trail flights from the carrier’s deck next year.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also attended the event. Despite a public feud between Mr Hammond and Mr Williamson escalating recently, Mr Williamson acknowledged the Treasury had settled its outstanding bill and the Chancellor was now able to use RAF planes again for official business, after the story made headlines last week.
Rural police forces consider giving guns to regular officers
It has been reported in The Guardian that rural police forces are considering plans to equip some of their uniformed officers with firearms. Senior officers believe that, as specialist firearms officers are often located far from rural communities – such as Devon and Cornwall which spans 4,000 square miles, they might be unable to respond to a critical incident in a timely manner. These changes would be in addition to the already trained firearms officers in service. The plans entail giving regular officers two weeks of firearms training with a Glock handgun, which is common procedure in Northern Ireland.
The British Transport Police is also considering arming its officers, as Deputy Chief Constable, Adrian Hanstock, called for fresh thinking on how to tackle the increasing terror threat. He noted that the perpetrator of the Westminster terror attacks, Khalid Masood, was shot dead by an armed officer who happened to be at the scene, and that had such officers been at the scene of other attacks, they could have been stopped sooner.
The difficulty in deploying Home Office firearms officers to rural locations is a point the DPF is making consistently in briefings to parliamentarians as we discuss cuts to the MDP – in the context that MDP officers are often protecting sites in rural locations and could potentially provide an armed response to major incidents faster than Home Office constabularies.
Britain confronts limits of its military power
The Financial Times has claimed in and editorial leader article that “the UK’s capabilities in defence do not match its global ambitions.” Ongoing reductions in the defence budget since 2010 have left the MoD with a “£20bn hole in the budget,” according to the FT; a problem compounded by the fall in the value of the pound in light of Brexit which has made procurement more costly. The newspaper also asserts that, because of the UK’s commitment to NATO to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, the MoD’s real terms funding will increase until 2021, but this will not be enough to empower the UK to take advantage of its real military strengths or be “a strategically significant partner” to its allies against increasingly powerful hostile states.
The FT has also referred to the widely reported speculation that the Royal Navy might have to lose its amphibious capabilities, and both the Navy and the Army might further reduce personnel numbers. The SDSR Review is likely to result in delays to the purchase of the Royal Air Force’s F35 jets and to the upgrading of equipment. Although this would leave the military able to conduct “time-limited deployments against less sophisticated opponents,” the nature of emerging threats now demand more than that, according to the newspaper, as military chiefs from the UK’s main ally, the US, have publicly attested to.
Improvements in military funding currently look unlikely because of the Conservative Government’s aversion to increasing taxes being challenged primarily by the Labour shadow cabinet which is promoting pacifism. To maintain influence, according to the FT, the UK should increase its partnerships with EU nations, with which it is on par.
The Financial Times is a highly respected newspaper with very much a moderate editorial position. The detailed editorial criticism of defence spending will likely strike a nerve within government – particularly HM Treasury – and will support Gavin Williamson’s demands for additional funding. The DPF is in contact with David Bond, the FT’s new defence and security editor, who published a story last month on the Federation’s concerns regarding the security of the MoD estate.
Sexual Assault laws that apply to the Armed Forces have been changed
It has been reported that Commanding Officers in the British Armed Forces will no longer be responsible for investigating soldiers’ allegations of sexual assault, through a Draft Order that has been put forward to amend the Armed Forces Act 2006. It will come into effect on 1st March 2018. Currently, Commanding Officers internally handle allegations of sexual and indecent assault, voyeurism and exposure, which provides victims with an arguably lower standard of investigation than civilian victims. Such complaints will now be dealt with by the Royal Military Police, and not civilian police. Although the Government announced that it would make this reform in November 2016, it has taken until now for the Draft Order to be made.
Human rights charity Liberty has campaigned to have the law amended since 2014 and represents current and former service personnel and their families who have put forward allegations of sexual violence and rape while serving. Emma Norton, Head of Casework at Liberty, said, “until Commanding Officers are forced to refer all allegations of sexual assault to civilian police, our soldiers will still be subjected to second-best justice.”
The DPF has previously commented on the investigation of such serious allegations and incidents, noting that there are inherent conflicts of interest within existing processes; also suggesting that the likes of the MDP could provide an independent and qualified investigative capacity. This issue is also high on the agenda of many of the Federation’s parliamentary supporters, including Defence Select Committee member Madeleine Moon MP.