Last week’s main UK defence and security news has been reports of comments made by an unnamed British Army General in relation to the prospect of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. The Sunday Times reports that the General warned the Armed Forces would take “direct action” to stop a Corbyn government downgrading them and said his victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay”, even among Labour-supporting soldiers. He added: “The General Staff would not allow a Prime Minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.” Responding to the report of the comments, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “The Chief of the Defence Staff and I agree that these comments, if true, are completely unacceptable. We are absolutely clear that senior members of the military must of course always remain politically neutral.” The Independent reports that Defence Select Committee member Madeleine Moon MP wants the Defence Secretary to investigate the situation.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that Jeremy Corbyn could be forced into an earlier than anticipated confrontation over Trident as part of a series of high-profile conference votes pitting new Labour members against his shadow cabinet. Delegates at next week’s party conference will be given the option of choosing to debate and vote on the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent for the first time in decades. A debate on Trident could prove awkward for Mr Corbyn, since he cannot be certain of persuading conference to back his stance on nuclear disarmament, which requires a two-thirds majority.
· No further personnel cuts to Armed Forces, Defence Secretary says
· Bassingbourn Libyan cadet report reveals scale of security operation
No further personnel cuts to Armed Forces, Defence Secretary says
The Sun reports that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has vowed there will be no more cuts to military personnel. Addressing the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Mr Fallon said that the upcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) would not see a repeat of the cuts of 2010, and hinted that the Royal Navy would see an increase in personnel numbers.
In a wide ranging speech, he stated that the main threats to the world today came from terrorism, Russia and the breakdown of government in North Africa. Michael Fallon also said that the military build-up in Syria by Vladimir Putin to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was making an already “immensely complicated situation” worse. Following the election of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – who opposes UK military intervention – the Defence Secretary indicated the Government would need the support of rebel Labour MPs if it was to win a Commons vote on extending RAF air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq into neighbouring Syria.
Bassingbourn Libyan cadet report reveals scale of security operation
The BBC reports that a new MoD report has shown that nearly three hundred security staff were drafted in to stop Libyan cadets absconding from an Army base after five trainees committed sex offences in nearby Cambridge. The report stated that only turning Bassingbourn Barracks into a “fortress” could have bolstered security further. The MoD had given assurances cadets would not be allowed off the base unless accompanied, however, reports of trainees leaving and protests over their allowances tested both Army security and local police.
Trainees arrived in June 2014, but by October five had been charged with rape and other sex offences. Numbers of security personnel deployed at the barracks rose from an initial 28 to 87 in October and, finally, to 296 by the end of that month – upping the security status to “containment plus”, the report said. A “public safety plan” was implemented outside the base consisting of Army patrols at “pinch-points”, with Army spotters deployed. Responding to the content of the full report, a MoD spokesman said: “We accept all of the report's recommendations and are implementing the lessons learnt. We have been clear that no general purpose force training will take place at Bassingbourn in future.”
RAF proposes increase in number of combat squadrons as part of SDSR
The Sunday Times reports that defence sources say the RAF’s senior commanders have made increasing the number of planned fighter and bomber squadrons from six to twelve a cornerstone of their submission to the Government’s forthcoming SDSR. The move would be embarrassing for the Government, reversing the 2010 defence review which reduced the frontline RAF to its smallest size since the First World War. Under the current review, due to be published in early December, both the RAF and Royal Navy will be allowed to expand. Sources say the Navy is expected to be allowed to recruit 2,500 extra sailors for its two new aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.
But the Army is likely to fare less well, with up to a third of its senior ranks set to be axed and hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles to remain mothballed. However, current numbers will be sustained. The Army also plans to delay its withdrawal from Germany to save money and provide more time to build new homes in Britain for returning troops and their families. Under the existing timetable, the Army’s remaining units are due to return from Germany to the UK by the end of 2018, completing a £1.8bn withdrawal of 20,000 troops. Defence sources say the final 4,400 troops are now expected to return by the end of 2019.
Armed Forces fitness test failure rate revealed
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the MoD has revealed how many Armed Forces personnel failed their relevant service fitness test. Between 1 June 2014 and 31 May 2015. The figures were as follows:
· 588 Royal Navy (regular) personnel failed at least one fitness test – approximately three per cent of the personnel in service as of 1 June 2015 that took one or more fitness tests during this period
· 4,339 Army (regular) personnel failed at least one fitness test – approximately 7.5 per cent of the personnel in service as of 1 June 2015 that took one or more fitness tests during this period
· 1,633 RAF (regular) personnel failed at least one fitness test – approximately six per cent of the personnel in service as of 1 June 2015 that took one or more fitness tests during this period
MI5 pays UK Muslims to spy on terror suspects
The Guardian reports that MI5 is paying Muslim informants for controversial short-term spying missions to help avert terrorist attacks by home-grown Islamist extremists. Individuals across the UK, including in Manchester and London, are being employed on temporary assignments to acquire intelligence on specific targets, according to sources within the Muslim community. One said that they knew of an informant recently paid £2,000 by the British security services to spy on activities relating to a mosque over a six-week period.
The initiative is being co-ordinated under the Government’s official post-11 September counter-terrorism strategy, specifically the strand known as Pursue, which has an official remit to “stop terrorist attacks in this country and against our interest overseas. This means detecting and investigating threats at the earliest possible stage”. A source, not from Whitehall but with knowledge of the payments, said: “It’s been driven by the [intelligence] agencies, it’s a network of human resources across the country engaged to effectively spy on specific targets. It’s decent money.” The use of payments to gather information prompted calls for caution from senior figures in the Muslim community, who warned that such transactions could produce tainted intelligence.
Head of Europol warns of 'wave of criminality' resulting from migration crisis
The Daily Telegraph reports that Europe's migration crisis is creating an “unprecedented wave of criminality” as gangs across the continent converge around the “honeypot” of people-smuggling, the head of Europol has warned. Rob Wainwright, a former MI5 officer who now directs Europe’s cross-border policing body, told the newspaper that opportunists who previously dealt in drugs or racketeering were now reaping the rewards of smuggling migrants.
His remarks provided a glimpse of the hidden underside of Europe’s migration crisis. Every group of desperate people trying to escape war in the Middle East provides an opportunity for criminals. New figures released last week provided a more detailed picture of the origins of those on the move. More than 213,000 people claimed asylum in EU countries between April and June, according to Eurostat. Of these, only 44,000 – or 21 per cent – were from Syria. Afghans provided the second biggest contingent – 13 per cent – but Albanians were next on eight per cent.
MoD starts consultation on expanding Raasay Ranges
The BBC reports that the MoD has started a public consultation on a planned expansion of a test area in Scotland for Royal Navy submarines. The MoD said its contractor QinetiQ had begun a separate consultation process with local fishermen. The ranges in the Inner Sound between the Isle of Raasay and Applecross on the mainland form part of the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC). BUTEC provides a sonar and weapon system test area for the Royal Navy crews of Vanguard-class nuclear weapon submarines and Astute and Trafalgar-class attack submarines. Fishing is banned in an area six miles (10km) long and three miles (6km) wide in the Raasay Ranges.
Plans to increase Armed Forces recruitment from ethnic minorities unveiled
The Independent reports that Britain’s Army, Navy and Air Force will have to hire thirty per cent more recruits from an ethnic minority background by the end of the decade under plans to improve diversity in the Armed Forces. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has told service chiefs that by 2020 at least ten per cent of all new joiners will have to come from a non-white background. He also wants to see the Armed Forces introduce schemes to improve minority representation at the most senior ranks. Currently, ethnic minorities make up just seven per cent of the Armed Forces compared to twelve per cent of the British workforce overall. In a speech Mr Fallon said this was not good enough and that he wanted to see a marked improvement by the end of the decade. He denied imposing such a target was “tokenism”.