This week’s main UK security and defence news has been controversy over a failed Trident missile test last year that was not publicly reported at the time. The Daily Telegraph reports that Theresa May refused to say whether she knew that a Trident missile had misfired just weeks before a House of Commons vote on the future of the nuclear deterrent. Downing Street has been accused of covering up the failure. Asked repeatedly on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show about whether she personally knew about the misfire, Mrs May said only: “I have absolute faith in our Trident missiles.” She added: “I think we should defend our country.” However, the following day, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman conceded that the Prime Minister had been briefed last year about the incident.
Following the revelation over the failed launch, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon appeared before MPs to say that HMS Vengeance, one of Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines, had been “successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle”. He accused MPs of putting national security at risk by asking for “operational details” about the launch. Sir Michael added: “The capability and effectiveness of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt.” However, while he was addressing Parliament, a US broadcaster began reporting details of the failure, claiming that “The missile was diverted into the ocean to self-destruct – an automatic procedure when missile electronics detect an anomaly,” the report said.
Responding, Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “This is just not good enough”, adding, “At the heart of this issue is a worrying lack of transparency and a Prime Minister who's chosen to cover up a serious incident, rather than coming clean with the British public. This House, and more importantly the British public, deserve better.”
The Trident D5 missile system has an excellent test launch record – a point highlighted by the fact that broadcasters had to use footage of a 1989 firing that failed to illustrate the story. Details of such tests are not routinely publicised, although information regarding a problem would have been particularly sensitive given the vote to renew the system that was imminent at the time of the incident. It is highly unlikely that the revelation of the failed test will result in any reconsideration of renewing the nuclear deterrent following last year’s Parliamentary vote.
- Director of GCHQ resigns
- Policing and Crime Bill completes passage through parliament
- Questions raised over capability of Army
- Police officer shot in Northern Ireland in 'terrorist attack'
- Army misses recruitment target
- Swansea man charged with terrorism offences
- Bravery award given to undercover armed officer
- UK to provide additional support to Ukraine
- London Mayor: public at risk from Met underfunding
Director of GCHQ resigns
The Guardian reports that the director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, is to stand down early for personal reasons, mainly health issues involving his wife and other family members. Mr Hannigan took over at the UK’s surveillance agency in November 2014 to oversee a more open approach after revelations by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden put GCHQ on the defensive in 2013. His sudden resignation – he informed staff just hours before making this decision public – prompted speculation that it might be related to British concerns over shared intelligence with the US in the wake of Donald Trump becoming President. But the GCHQ press release stressed his decision was exclusively for family reasons.
At GCHQ, Mr Hannigan had led a push to make the agency more transparent, a process that included a major speech in the US last year on encryption and tech companies. He also pressed to try to put GCHQ at the forefront of digital challenges, leading to the creation of the National Cyber Security Centre in October last year. In his first week in office, he created controversy with a column published in the Financial Times accusing US technology companies of becoming “the command and control networks of choice” for terrorists.
Policing and Crime Bill completes passage through parliament
The Policing and Crime Bill has completed its passage through Parliament, and is now awaiting Royal Assent in order to become law. The Bill provides for a broad range of measures, including the enforcement of closer collaboration between police and other emergency services; reforms to the police complaints and disciplinary systems; and a number of reforms to police powers. The maximum sentence for stalking is also to be doubled.
Notably, the Bill includes provisions meaning police officers – including those within the MDP – will in future still be subject to investigation in the event they retire or otherwise leave their constabulary following misconduct allegations. Any officer in such a position could be investigated up to 12 months after they have departed their constabulary, although the Bill will not be active retrospectively – i.e. only officers who face misconduct allegations after the new regulation in the Bill has entered into force will be subject to its measures. In exceptional circumstances, this 12-month limit could be extended.
Just prior to the completion of the Bill’s passage, peers were compelled to give up on efforts to force ministers to continue with the second part of the inquiry by Sir Brian Leveson into the press. The amendment was proposed in the Lords last November, before being defeated by MPs in the Commons. However, it has now been withdrawn in the face of Government opposition.
Questions raised over capability of Army
The Sunday Times reports that defence cuts have “effectively removed” Britain’s ability to “deliver and sustain” an effective fighting force against a “competent” enemy such as Russia, according to the Army’s think tank. Years of squeezed budgets have resulted in the “hollowing out or deletion of the Army’s deployed capabilities”, a paper from the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR) says. It warns that the risk of the Army’s one remaining fighting division being wiped out in an afternoon will “weigh heavily” on commanders.
Under the Government’s defence review in 2015, the Army’s sole “war-fighting division” will be expanded and equipped with improved armoured vehicles. This was part of a move to prepare the Army for fighting large-scale wars after years of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The CHACR report highlighted how, if the UK was at war, there would be “political pressures” to safeguard the division. It also raises questions over whether the UK would be able to transport a large force to the front line.
The report does not put forward any new concerns. However, the risk of the UK being forced to refrain from military action due to a fear – however remote – of its main fighting formation taking irreplaceable losses may constrain future policy options.
Police officer shot in Northern Ireland in 'terrorist attack'
The Daily Telegraph reports that a police officer has been shot in north Belfast in what was described as a “terrorist” attack. He suffered injuries to the arm, which were said not to be life-threatening, in the drive-by attack near a petrol station. Police said on Sunday night that a man aged 36 had been arrested. Dissident republicans have attempted to kill members of the security forces in Northern Ireland in recent years. The Police Federation which represents rank and file officers said the shooting, which took place on the Crumlin Road, was a terrorist attack.
Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said it was an appalling act. “This attack on the life of an officer is a stark reminder of the determination on the part of terrorists to murder and maim police officers.”
The BBC reports that following the incident, responsibility for the shooting was claimed by the ‘New IRA’. The republican group said the attack was a “targeted” attempt to kill two officers. The new IRA was formed in 2012 after a number of dissident republican organisations said they were unifying under one leadership. It is believed to be the largest dissident republican organisation.
Army misses recruitment target
The Sun reports that the Army is facing a recruitment crisis after a drive to swell the ranks proved a “disastrous” flop. Official figures reveal a shortfall of 2,670 soldiers after defence chiefs failed to hit every target for the year. Twelve major regiments and corps all missed their recruitment goals, leaving the Army four per cent below its required strength of 82,000. Last year the MoD set a target of hiring an extra 9,580 regular troops – but new figures show only 6,910 signed up.
A new campaign of TV adverts is focusing on the “unique lasting bonds of friendship” found in the Army – replacing the boast of the skills soldiers can learn. The switch came as an outsourced recruitment operation was found to be delivering 10 to 15 per cent fewer recruits than needed.
Swansea man charged with terrorism offences
The BBC reports that a man from Swansea has been charged with terrorism offences. Lee Edward Griffiths is facing five charges of collecting information that may be useful to someone who commits or prepares acts of terrorism.
“Wales is still one of the safest places to live, work, and enjoy,” said Supt Lee Porter, head of Wales' extremism counter terrorism unit. “The public should be reassured that we will continue to work with all partners to keep our communities safe.”
Mr Griffiths was arrested by officers from Wales Extremism Counter Terrorism Unit and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit on 19 January.
Bravery award given to undercover armed officer
The Evening Standard reports that an armed police officer has been award the highest civilian medal for gallantry after taking on a hooded gunman during a gang feud in north London. Undercover firearms officer Martin Finney was shot at seven times by his attacker Sedat Meric in a Tottenham street in May 2014. Meric, then 25, who was eventually jailed for 15 years for the attack, had already fired three shots at a pool bar before he saw the officer, swung round and opened fire. Mr Finney, known as NC32 at the time, fired several shots back as he dived for cover. He hid behind parked cars as he pursued his attacker into a dark residential street. The National Crime Agency firearms officer has been awarded the George Medal, which is a civil decoration presented to those who have performed acts of bravery.
UK to provide additional support to Ukraine
The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain will stand alongside Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia because freedom cannot be “traded”, the Defence Secretary has said, amid fears Donald Trump may scale back support to Kiev in a deal with Moscow. Sir Michael Fallon announced new British military training to Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed separatists and said a Royal Navy warship will visit the country for the first time in a decade. In comments likely to be seen as a message to Mr Trump, Sir Michael said: “The values of freedom and democracy cannot be traded.”
The remarks follow comments from Mr Trump that he will propose an end to sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea. Mr Trump has downplayed Russian aggression in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine and has suggested he may recognise Moscow’s claims on the peninsula.
During her Brexit speech last week, Theresa May highlighted that the UK’s plan to deploy troops to Estonia was still going ahead. As well as being a reference to Britain’s continuing commitment to European security after departing the EU, it was also, as in Ukraine, a signal that the commitment to Eastern Europe will continue regardless of the Trump administration’s stance. Theresa May is to be the first foreign leader to visit Mr Trump this week and, amongst a number of issues, is expected to highlight the importance of NATO and continued US support for the alliance.
London Mayor: public at risk from Met underfunding
The Evening Standard reports that London Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned the safety of Londoners is being put at risk by underfunding of Metropolitan Police duties including royal protection and guarding major events.
The Mayor has claimed the Government is underfunding the Metropolitan Police’s duties by as much as £170 million. In a letter to London MPs and council leaders, Mr Khan has suggested the shortfall could put public safety at risk. The Evening Standard also reports that riot police in London are being issued body-worn video cameras as means of presenting clear evidence in court, while also enhancing public confidence.
The warnings of Sadiq Khan are unlikely to result in any increase in funding for the Metropolitan Police. However, the highlighting of the Force’s limited resources is helpful in underlining the importance of the MDP in supporting Home Office constabularies if and when required.