It was announced this morning that the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU has seen ‘Leave’ secure a win by a narrow margin: 51.9% of the population voted for Britain to leave the EU, with 48.1% voting to remain.
In an official statement, the Prime Minister announced that he will resign by the Conservative Party Conference, which will take place on 2nd – 5th October 2016. The formal process of withdrawing from the EU will then begin under a new leader. David Cameron’s confirmation that the Cabinet will meet on Monday suggests that there will not be a reshuffle for the time being.
The new Prime Minister will need to establish a stable Government as soon as possible in order to calm financial markets, and begin in earnest the UK’s EU exit negotiations. It is also likely that there will be an Emergency Budget in the coming months to announce measures to manage the UK’s departure from the EU. The timing of the UK’s EU exit will now hinge on a decision as to when to invoke Article 50 of the of the Treaty of the European Union, which triggers a departure process which may last up to two years. David Cameron has made clear in his statement this morning that the decision will be taken by his successor.
Although there will be an attempt to continue the legislative agenda as outlined in the recent Queen’s Speech, it is likely that both the direct and indirect repercussions of the vote to leave the EU will dominate the political landscape. This may cause delays to the passage of measures of relevance to the DPF, most notably the Policing and Crime Bill. More broadly, as defence is outside of the realm of the EU’s competence, the direct impact of this decision on DPF and MDP will be minimal. However, the wider economic consequences of this vote could result in the Government enacting further spending cuts – including in the defence sector. In the longer-term it will also mean the UK is not in a position to influence any European integration in defence policy that may impact on NATO. However, any decisions in this area are unlikely to be taken in either the short or medium term. Even in the event of EU defence integration, the UK will remain a valuable strategic site for the US, and it would be unlikely to impact on security of the MoD estate delivered by the MDP.
In the wake of the result, two Labour MPs have submitted a motion of no confidence in Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. This comes in light of what many have perceived to be his half-hearted support for the Remain campaign. The motion has no formal constitutional force but calls for a discussion at their next Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting on Monday. It will be up to the PLP Chairman to decide whether it is debated. If accepted it would be followed by a secret ballot of Labour MPs on Tuesday, which could in turn trigger a leadership challenge.
A separate issue is the scale of support for the EU in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that preparations will now begin for a new referendum on Scottish independence, with a vote described by her as being “highly likely”. Whilst the SNP does not hold a majority in the Scottish Parliament, it is possible that they will be able to persuade a small number of MSPs from other parties – notably the Greens – to support legislation for a new referendum. But, even if independence became a reality, there would still have to be lengthy negotiations – including over the use of sites such as Faslane and Coulport.
Both the House of Commons and House of Lords will return to business on 27 June.
Questions on the MDP answered in the House of Commons
This week has seen three questions tabled by Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) concerning the MDP answered in the House of Commons.
· In response to Ms Brock’s question asking the Defence Secretary what changes his Department plans to make to the size of the workforce of the MDP, Defence Minister Julian Brazier said that the Department plans to recruit around 260 new police officers to the MDP during the course of 2016-17 to offset anticipated attrition rates and maintain sufficient resource to the level of tasking required.
· In response to Ms Brock’s question asking what assessment the Defence Secretary has made of the effect of changes to the size of the workforce of the MDP on (a) public safety and (b) safeguarding the Trident nuclear deterrent, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said that the safety and security at all nuclear facilities is of the upmost importance and the MoD has several security providers which deliver this capability. He added that arrangements are frequently tested and kept under continual review, and that changes would never be made that would place these in jeopardy.
· In response to Ms Brock’s question asking the Defence Secretary asking how many MDP officers are employed in safeguarding the Trident nuclear deterrent, Mr Lancaster said that he was withholding such information on grounds of national security.
Labour leadership ‘to force’ MPs to abstain on Trident vote
The Daily Telegraph reports that Jeremy Corbyn is planning to force Labour MPs to abstain from a key vote on renewing the UK's nuclear deterrent, despite the party officially backing the Trident missile system. Senior Labour sources have confirmed that Mr Corbyn is planning to ensure his MPs do not vote on the issue by enforcing a three line whip to abstain.
This report came as the former Assistant Chief of Defence Staff dismissed claims made by Labour's shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry that unmanned drones could render Trident obsolete. His comments will deliver a blow to Ms Thornberry's defence review, set to be published shortly, which was requested by Mr Corbyn in a bid to change the direction of the party's policy. These developments came in the aftermath of the publication last week of a ‘myth busting’ report on Trident by backbench Labour MP and nuclear deterrent advocate John Woodcock.
MoD to privatise repatriation and burial of war casualties
The Financial Times reports that repatriation and burial of war casualties and notification of next of kin are to be run by the private sector, with the MoD set to invite bids next month for a contract to run the services. Defence Business Services was established in 2011 to run human resources, payroll and vetting, and was merged with the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency in 2014. The division also provides welfare services to 900,000 veterans and their dependents. A smaller contract to manage the organisation was held by Serco and Accenture until April. But this planned outsourcing deal is much larger and incorporates more MoD divisions, such as casualty services, which were not previously included, according to a pre-tender notice in the Official Journal of the EU.
The deal is expected to include MoD staff in the division for the first time, with some of its 2,500 personnel expected to be transferred to the winning private company. The £36m four-year contract is expected to be awarded next year. It is the latest in a run of MoD outsourcing deals implemented as the UK’s defence budget has been cut by eight per cent in real terms since 2010.
Iraq War lawyer charged with misconduct
The Daily Telegraph reports that a lawyer whose firm has brought hundreds of claims against British troops and was partly blamed for the collapse of a multi-million pound inquiry into war crimes has been charged by the solicitors’ professional body. Phil Shiner, from Public Interest Lawyers, is believed to be facing the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over his firm’s alleged involvement in false claims being made against British troops by Iraqis. Mr Shiner had been attempting to be keep proceedings private but this was challenged by a number of national newspapers at a hearing in London.
A Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal spokesman said: “There was a hearing which took place in private yesterday. We are unable to comment any further in relation to this matter due to legal restrictions.” It is not known if future hearings will also be held in private.
New UK jet will depend on US for repair
The Daily Telegraph reports that he RAF's new F-35 stealth jets’ electronics will have to be sent to US for repairs for security reasons – even though the equipment is made by an offshoot of British defence giant BAE Systems. The revelation came as BAE detailed the importance of its US-based electronic warfare (EW) division to the company, with it generating about $1.4bn (£950m) of the group’s annual revenue of £17bn. However, US export regulations mean that when the complex electronic systems on the jets need repairs, they will have to go back to the US; RAF engineers will not be able to fully service the equipment.
The MoD said, “UK F-35 aircraft operating in the US are being maintained by RAF and Royal Navy specialists, who are able to undertake all necessary squadron work on avionics components. Whilst the aircraft remain based in the US, components requiring industrial-level maintenance are repaired there. The F-35 programme is looking to establish repair facilities around the globe before UK aircraft begin operating from RAF Marham in 2018.”