This week’s main security and defence news has been the vote in the House of Commons to approve the renewal of the Trident-based nuclear deterrent. The Guardian reported that after more than five hours of discussion, parliament voted in favour of Trident renewal by a majority of 355 in a motion backed by almost the entire Conservative party and more than half of Labour MPs. It was opposed by all Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs, the Lib Dems and Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP, a lifelong unilateralist who spoke out strongly against the plans during the debate. Other members of Corbyn’s frontbench team, including the shadow defence secretary, Clive Lewis MP, and the shadow foreign affairs secretary, Emily Thornberry MP, abstained after claiming that the Government was turning an issue of “national security into a political game”.
While Labour was split on the issue, the Conservatives viewed Trident as an issue which could help unify their party after a fractious EU referendum campaign, and for Theresa May MP it was her first parliamentary test at the despatch box as Prime Minster. During the debate, the PM attracted gasps when she made clear she would be willing to authorise a nuclear strike killing 100,000 people, when challenged by the SNP about whether she would ever approve a nuclear strike causing mass loss of life. The Labour leader, responded to the Prime Minister by making the case for nuclear disarmament, pointing out that the party’s pro-Trident position was under review. Given Labour’s ongoing defence review, which involves at least five options ranging from complete replacement to disarmament by the 2030s, he gave his MPs a free vote. The three other options are reduced patrols and fewer submarines, missiles carried by aircraft, and adapted submarines to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads.
While the parliamentary debate was fierce, the near-unanimous Conservative support for maintaining the nuclear deterrent, together with the support of a majority of Labour MPs, ensured the result of the vote was never in doubt.
New defence ministers announced
Following the news that Michael Fallon MP is to remain Defence Secretary, a number of changes have been made to the wider ministerial team.
Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead, Mike Penning, an MP since 2005, has been appointed as a defence minister. Although his responsibilities are yet to be formally announced, it is believed that he will take over from Penny Mordaunt MP as Armed Forces Minister. He has previously served as a minister at the Department for Transport, Northern Ireland Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Home Office and Ministry of Justice. Prior to his current appointment, he served as the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims. Then prior to taking a seat in the Commons, he served in the Army for five years before becoming a firefighter, subsequently he was a journalist and later a political media advisor.
Additionally, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire Harriett Baldwin has been appointed as a new defence minister. Although her responsibilities are yet to be announced, she is expected to replace Philip Dunne MP as Defence Procurement Minister. An MP since 2005, she previously served as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Russia, before joining the Government in February 2014 as Assistant Government Whip. She has also served in the Treasury and prior to this reshuffle was the City Minister. Prior to become an MP, she worked in finance.
Finally, Minister for the Reserves, Julian Brazier MP, has left the Government without replacement.
Mark Lancaster MP, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans who is responsible for the MDP, has retained his position.
Kidnap attempt at RAF Marham
The Guardian reported that police are looking for two men described as “Middle Eastern” in appearance who allegedly attempted to abduct an RAF serviceman at knifepoint outside his military barracks, an incident they say may have been motivated by terrorism. Norfolk constabulary said on Thursday they were seeking two men aged between 20 and 30, and confirmed the incident was being treated as a botched abduction attempt. One of the alleged assailants leapt from a dark-coloured Ford Galaxy and tried to drag the unarmed serviceman towards the vehicle as he was going for a run near RAF Marham on Wednesday afternoon, police said. The serviceman fought back and knocked the attacker to the floor, at which point the second man allegedly got out of the car wielding a three-inch blade. As he went to help his companion, the victim ran away.
RAF Marham is home to four Tornado squadrons that have played a key role in the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Military personnel and bases in the UK have previously been the targets of terrorist attacks and plots. In April, two men were jailed for planning attacks on soldiers.
Media reports have speculated that the incident was an attempt to stage a Lee Rigby-style attack, but the fact that Norfolk constabulary remains in control of the investigation suggests that motives other than terrorism are thought to be more plausible.
Soldier dies in training exercise
The Guardian reported that the MoD is again under scrutiny over how it keeps personnel safe in very hot weather following the death of a “superfit” young soldier who took part in a march near where three men died from heat illness during a previous SAS selection exercise. Cpl Joshua Hoole, 26, a member of the Rifles infantry regiment and a veteran of two tours of Afghanistan, had just finished an eight-mile test march in the Brecon Beacons in south Wales on the hottest day of the year when he collapsed and died. Police officers, the Health and Safety Executive and the military are involved in investigations to find out why Hoole, who was due to marry his long-term girlfriend later this year, fell ill.
The incident has echoes of the July 2013 tragedy in which three SAS candidates died following a grueling test in high temperatures. The MoD was strongly criticised by the men’s families and the coroner at their inquest for failing to understand the danger that extreme heat can pose, and the Government promised that lessons had been learned.
Royal Navy submarine involved in collision
The Daily Telegraph reported that a nuclear-powered Royal Navy submarine has been forced into port in Gibraltar after a collision with a merchant vessel. An investigation has been launched after HMS Ambush was involved in the “glancing” collision while submerged. The Astute-class vessel suffered “some external damage”, but no crew members were injured in the incident. The attack submarine's nuclear reactor was undamaged, the Royal Navy said. Photographs of Barrow-built HMS Ambush arriving in Gibraltar appear to show damage to the front section of its conning tower.
In a statement on the MoD website, the Royal Navy said the incident took place at approximately 13:30 local time on Tuesday, adding “The submarine suffered some external damage but there is absolutely no damage to her nuclear plant and no member of the ship's company was injured in the incident.”
Type 26 frigate programme to be delayed
The Guardian reported that the construction of a new fleet of frigates has been delayed indefinitely, the MoD has said in testy exchanges with MPs over huge financial and technical problems facing the navy’s surface vessels. Delays in building the Type 26 frigates – a project promised by David Cameron MP as Prime Minister before the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – is threatening shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde in Scotland. “I can’t give you a time or a date,” Tony Douglas, the MoD’s top official responsible for military equipment, said on Wednesday after he was asked by MPs on the Commons’ defence select committee when the frigate design would be approved.
The number of planned new frigates has already been cut from 13 to eight, though the MoD has the option to build five smaller and cheaper general-purpose vessels. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, described the delay as a “disgraceful betrayal and a breach of the promise made in the [independence referendum]”.