Policing news this week was dominated by the announcement by the Metropolitan Police that it no longer intends to investigate some crimes it deems as low-level. The news, issued within the Met’s Crime Assessment Police guidance, has been widely reported this week, with numerous groups and commentators decrying the plans as unsafe. The guidance is in response to efforts by the Met to find £400 million in cuts by 2020 – although the scale of the savings is disputed by the Government.
In a rare interview, the Director General of MI5 has also highlighted the scale of the terror threat facing the UK, describing it as “operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before.” His comments included the recommitment to collaborate with MI5’s European counterparts once Britain formerly leaves the European Union. Meanwhile, Brexit was also the subject of a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing this week, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd refusing to rule out the deployment of soldiers and Armed Forces personnel to protect UK borders, with suggestions service personnel could be used to augment staff at airports and major entry points to the UK.
The Defence Select Committee has also resumed hearing evidence of an inquiry into MoD procurement that was left incomplete before the General Election, while DPF Eamon Keating met with the Committee’s Chairman, Rt Hon Julian Lewis MP, to discuss ongoing challenges for the MDP.
Low-level crimes to go uninvestigated in Met Police spending cuts
The Metropolitan Police has announced that the UK’s largest police force will no longer investigate lower-level crimes where identifying or prosecuting the perpetrator was unlikely, such as in burglaries and thefts of items worth less than £50 and minor assaults. The plans are part of the Met’s efforts to achieve £400 million in savings alleged to have been demanded by the Government, although the figure is hotly disputed by ministers. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons has explained that offences will be considered through the Crime Assessment Policy, which has recently been introduced as guidance to help police determine whether or not “it would be proportionate” to follow up reports of crime.
Critics of this news insist it allows criminals to commit crime. Former Metropolitan Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville told The Sun, “Few professional criminals target people who know them, so the worst villains will evade justice” as a result of the new policy. Chris Hobbs, a former special branch officer, said “It really does give the green light to criminals do as they please, especially if they are hooded or masked.”
While the announcement highlights the significant resourcing issues the Met and other Home Office constabularies face, it is likely to come under significant scrutiny, potentially including from the Home Affairs Select Committee. We are continually monitoring the Committee’s activity to identify any issues or workstreams of relevance to the DPF.
MI5 chief claims UK facing ‘most severe terror threat’
Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5, has given a rare public speech this week to emphasised the terror threats currently faced by the UK, as reported in The Guardian. Mr Parker described the domestic terror threat as “multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before.” The agency’s staff number is increasing from 4,000 to 5,000 and Mr Parker paid tribute to MI5’s staff and officers, saying, “They get up and come to work every single day to make terrorist attacks less likely and to keep the country safe.”
When asked whether a future attack was inevitable, Mr Parker said that “we have to be careful that we don’t find ourselves being held to some sort of perfect standard of 100% because that just isn’t achievable,” suggesting that future attacks were likely. He noted that the ever-changing character of the threat, and that ISIS losing ground in the Middle East would likely result in radicalised British militants returning home with intentions to carry out attacks. Mr Parker said MI5 had prevented far more terror plots than those that had occurred in the UK, killing 36 this year.
US warns of terrorist groups planning another 9/11-style attack
The Telegraph has reported that Elaine Duke, acting US Homeland Security Secretary, has issued a warning of the threat of another large-scale terrorist attack ahead of a G7 interior minister meeting. She said that so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups are carrying out small attacks to raise money, maintain visibility and keep members engaged, while actually wanting to carry out another “big explosion like they did on 9/11”.
Ms Duke said that the US and the UK would pressure social media firms to help fight terrorism, as tech companies are being asked to share data they have on suspected terrorists. In an ongoing debate between tech and government, the companies have expressed that while they are committed to removing criminal and extremist material from their sites, they need to balance that with users’ civil liberties.
Pressure mounts on the MoD as spending watchdog chief quits
Marcine Waterman, Chief Executive of the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO), is the latest in a series of senior MoD procurement officials to resign, the Financial Times has reported. The SSRO is responsible for monitoring non-compete contracts and has been demanding greater powers. Ms Waterman’s resignation follows the unexpected announcement that Tony Douglas would be standing down as head of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), and Louise Tullet, Director General of finance at the MoD, and Major General Robert Talbot-Rice, DE&S head of land equipment, both retired. It comes at a time when the MoD is facing “an estimated £20 billion budget shortfall” ahead of “some of the biggest procurement programmes of recent years.”
The Army could be deployed to protect the British border if no Brexit deal is reached
As concerns grow about the effect of a possible no deal on EU citizens’ rights and immigration as part of Brexit negotiations, Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the army could be deployed to protect Britain’s borders, as reported in the Daily Telegraph. British borders are expected come under pressure if no deal is reached, as authorities would have to vet all goods and people coming into the country. Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, supported Ms Rudd’s comments, suggesting such an action could not be ruled out due to staff shortages in the Border Force, even though 300 new staff have already been recruited. He said, “I think it would be unwise to rule anything out but it seems to me clear that any use of the military would be a last resort.”
The MDP has of course supported border personnel in the past; however, despite the comments made by the Home Secretary and Permanent Under Secretary this week, it would be challenging for Armed Forces personnel to be deployed in a similar capacity for similar arguments to those made by the DPF regarding the use of service personnel to fill MDP functions. Use of service personnel in this way would hamper their availability for deployment in the event of overseas military operations, and would likely be fiercely opposed by defence experts across the House of Commons.
MoD minister and officials unable to answer questions on jets
The Times has reported that MoD Minister Harriet Baldwin and Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove were unable to provide details of long term costs for a critical defence procurement programme. Giving evidence to a Defence Select Committee hearing this week, Ms Baldwin admitted the cost of the F-35 fighter programme would be £9.1 billion by 2026 for 48 of the 138 aircraft ordered by the MoD. However, Ms Baldwin was unable to provide a figure for long-term costs; with Mr Lovegrove also refusing to suggest a total cost or the cost of an individual plane.
The programme has faced significant criticism for its value for money, amid suggestions it includes numerous hidden costs.
This week’s oral evidence session is part of an inquiry begun by the Defence Select Committee before the General Election. The DPF met this week with the Committee’s Chairman, Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis, and it is likely procurement and spending decisions will remain high on the Committee’s agenda. We will be continuing to monitor the Committee’s work and remain in regular contact with Dr Lewis.
Government quizzed on future SDSR
Former Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz has received a response to written parliamentary question asking whether a new Strategic Defence and Security Review will be conducted when the UK leaves the EU. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon responded, saying a National Security Capability Review is currently being conducted to ensure that British capabilities are “as effective and efficient as possible,” considering the “rapidly changing international situation and the intensification of the threats identified in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review”.
The DPF is currently contacting the Cabinet Office, which is leading on the review, to secure a meeting with the review team.
Young Labour calls for NATO withdrawal
At its annual two-day conference this last weekend, the Young Labour organisation called for the Party to withdraw from NATO, an organisation it described as the “lynchpin” of American imperialism; with US President Donald Trump described as “an authoritarian and a fascist”.
The organisation represents Labour Party members aged between 14 and 26 years. It also used the meeting to call for the privatisation of banks and rejected the concept of two-state Israel and Palestine solution. The Labour Party declined to comment on the motion to withdraw from NATO.
The Young Labour call, while receiving considerable media attention, is highly unlikely to be adopted as party policy. While leader Jeremy Corbyn has been historically critical of NATO, the Party’s official policy remains one of commitment to the Alliance. However, the conference is a demonstration of significant militancy and the popularity of politically more left-wing views amongst younger Labour members, who remain staunchly supportive of Mr Corbyn’s leadership.