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Parliamentary and Political Monitoring Report w/c 23rd March

By DPF Admin30th March 2015August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

This week’s UK defence news has seen another round of exchanges in the defence spending debate. The Daily Telegraph reports that a new report from the Defence Select Committee has warned that Britain must increase defence spending to the NATO minimum to help stop chaos spreading from the Western Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Failure to hit the two per cent of GDP NATO spending target would be “extremely damaging” to Britain’s military credibility they say, while further cuts would undermine the whole alliance. Their report also states that the Coalition’s 2010 SDSR is out of date because it assumed a future of only lengthy Afghanistan-style operations, rather than confrontations with modern military rivals. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that UKIP has committed to spending two per cent of the UK's GDP on defence if it has a role in government after the election, saying that the target could be “comfortably met” by reducing the foreign aid budget, scrapping the HS2 rail link and reducing public funding for Scotland.

However, writing in the Daily Telegraph, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP has sought to defend the Government’s stance, claiming that because the UK’s Armed Forces now rest on firm financial foundations, they are well placed to allow Britain to play a key role in the Western alliance. However, as before, Mr Fallon reiterated that whether or not Britain kept to the two per cent NATO spending target was a matter for the next spending review.

Contents

·      Additional helicopters, news missiles and infrastructure funding for the Falklands announced

·      UK to train Syrian opposition members

·      Government Pipeline and Storage System sold to Spanish firm

·      MP claims “lessons must be learned” from disruption caused by unexploded bomb

·      Poor decision making left soldiers in Afghanistan “dangerously exposed”

·      MoD fine awarded to veterans’ charity

·      Sun journalists cleared of bribery charges

Additional helicopters, news missiles and infrastructure funding for the Falklands announced

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain will send two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters and a new surface-to-air missile system to the Falkland Islands, amid fears Russia could be arming the Argentine government. Some £180 million will be spent over the next decade in upgrading the island’s defences, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, told the Commons. The Chinook helicopters, which were removed from the islands to be sent to Afghanistan in 2006, will return and allow troops to respond to possible incursions more quickly, while a new system will replace the current Rapier air defence missiles when they go out of service at the end of the decade. The Mount Pleasant garrison will get a new communications system, while Mare Harbour will be upgraded. Troop levels will remain at around 1,200, and a British patrol vessel – currently HMS Clyde – will remain stationed off the Islands.

UK to train Syrian opposition members

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is to provide military training to “Syrian moderate opposition forces”, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said. The UK will send around 75 military trainers and headquarters staff to provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills. The training, which forms part of a US-led programme to support the moderate Syrian opposition, will take place in Turkey. The Prime Minister has ruled out direct military action inside Syria without giving MPs another vote in Parliament authorising strikes, but he has warned that the Islamic State will only be defeated if it is driven out of both Iraq and Syria.

For months, Britain has long promised to supply experts to help train moderate Syrian groups, who are struggling to resist the advance of the Islamic State inside Syria, but these training courses, which would take place in a neighbouring country such as Jordan have not begun. However, during talks in Washington, Mr Cameron and President Obama agreed that the training plan should go ahead now that the US Congress has authorised funding for the mission.

Government Pipeline and Storage System sold to Spanish firm

Your Defence News reports that the MoD has signed a contract to sell the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS) to Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos (CLH) of Spain for £82 million. The GPSS fuel storage and distribution network supplies aviation fuel to UK military bases – including those supporting US visiting forces – and the UK civil aviation sector. The sale means that the MoD is close to completing the three major elements of the Asset Management Programme that it launched following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Defence Support Group land business is being sold to Babcock for £140 million, with major downstream savings to Defence, and Solent Gateway has been selected as preferred bidder for the concession to manage, and exploit the commercial potential of the Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre, again generating significant downstream savings.

MP claims “lessons must be learned” from disruption caused by unexploded bomb

The Evening Standard reports that Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes has called for a “clear plan” to deal with any future unexploded bombs found in the capital. The Justice minister and local MP said “lessons must be learned” from the disruption caused when a 1,000lb Second World War bomb was unearthed near Tower Bridge. The device was destroyed in a controlled explosion in a quarry in Kent after being removed from the building site in Grange Walk where it was found by developers at 9.20am on Monday. Bomb experts with experience in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland carried out the operation to remove the weapon from a carefully dug trench before it was loaded into a steel container, covered with tonnes of sand and towed away under police escort. Hundreds of residents in the 200-metre blast zone were evacuated at short-notice during the 36-hour operation, with many left waiting past midnight yesterday as council workers scrambled to find emergency accommodation.

Poor decision making left soldiers in Afghanistan “dangerously exposed”

The Daily Telegraph reports that MPs have found that British soldiers were left “dangerously exposed” when they were sent into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province because of deep failings in decision-making. The “bewildering” internal structures in government led to “immensely important and costly decisions” being made with poor knowledge of the situation, it was said. Britain’s military chiefs “grossly underestimated” the scale of Taliban resistance in Helmand and eventually ten times as many troops as originally planned were needed, the MPs concluded. The findings will raise fresh questions about whether the procedures inside government for escalating military activity abroad are fit for purpose.

MoD fine awarded to veterans’ charity

The Independent reports that the newspaper’s campaign for ex-servicemen and women who have fallen on hard times has been boosted with a £250,000 donation from the Government. The money came from a fine imposed on the MoD for breaching rules aimed at clamping down on tax avoidance. The rules were brought in nearly three years ago amid concerns that such arrangements could make it easier for employees to avoid tax. A review of government departments and other agencies found more than 2,400 key public sector staff had been engaged off-payroll, in some cases for more than 10 years. The MoD was fined for failing to seek the necessary assurances from some contractors that the new rules were being met. The mistake is understood to be due to an administrative error in 2012-13.

Sun journalists cleared of bribery charges

The BBC reports that four Sun journalists have been cleared of wrongdoing over paying public officials for stories. Ex-chief reporter John Kay, 71, and ex-royal editor Duncan Larcombe, 39, said their contact with two military sources was in the public interest. Former deputy editors Fergus Shanahan, 60, and Geoff Webster, 55, were cleared of charges they signed off payments. The Old Bailey heard £100,000 was paid to MoD official Bettina Jordan-Barber. It can now be reported she was jailed in January for twelve months after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.

Eamon Keating

National Chairman

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