This week’s main UK security and defence news has been the controversy surrounding the UK’s engagement with the new Donald Trump-led US Government. The Guardian reports that Theresa May has secured a commitment from Donald Trump that the US is fully behind NATO at a historic press conference with an uncharacteristically emollient president. Standing next to Mr Trump, who nodded along, she said: “On defence and security cooperation, we’re united in our recognition of NATO as the bulwark of our collective defence and we reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance. We’re 100% behind NATO.” Mr Trump also appeared to moderate his stance on torture, suggesting that while he still believes ‘enhanced interrogation’ works, he would defer to the views of his secretary of defence, James Mattiss, who has previously said he does not believe such methods are effective. The event occurred in Washington D.C., as the Prime Minister became the first foreign leader to visit the president since he was sworn into office.
However, controversy quickly followed the Prime Minister’s trip, with Mr Trump signing an executive order banning the entry of individuals from seven Muslim countries from entering the US for a period of 90 days, and severely curtailing the US refugee programme. The Evening Standard reports that the ban prompted thousands of Londoners armed with banners to marched on Downing Street in protest against the travel ban. Whitehall was brought to a standstill and Westminster station was packed with hordes of angry protesters as they waited in queues to join the demo. The demonstration mirrored similar protests across the US. However, the objections to Mr Trump’s actions have so far failed to persuade Theresa May’s to withdraw an invitation to the president to make a state visit to the UK later this year.
The Trump Presidency has put the UK Government in the difficult position of having to maintain the country’s most important international alliance – a relationship that amongst other things allows for Britain to procure Trident missiles – whilst at the same time holding on to its core principles. The situation is further complicated by the UK’s need for a trade deal with the US to help compensate for its departure from the EU.
- MoD told it must find extra £6bn in savings from equipment plan
- Five anti-Trident protesters found guilty
- MDP help is welcomed by Garelochhead community council convener
- MoD faces pressure on single-source procurement
- British soldiers are being failed by Troubles inquiry, Northern Ireland Secretary concedes
- Police service ‘still haemorrhaging officers’
- UK police force's monitoring of reporters' phones ruled unlawful
- Two women among final four for Metropolitan police leadership
MoD told it must find extra £6bn in savings from equipment plan
The Guardian reports that officials have to find nearly £6bn of additional savings from the MoD equipment plan inside 10 years if they are to remain within budget, according to Whitehall’s spending watchdog. The National Audit Office said the possibility of running out of available funds – budgeted money and emergency cash – was greater than at any point since 2012. According to the report, the projected costs of funding the defence plan, which takes Britain from 2016 to 2026, rose by seven percent last year to £178bn. This compares with a rise of 1.2% between 2013 and 2015. A large part of the increase was due to the £24.4bn of additional commitments announced in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote has also increased costs.
The NAO has expressed concern that meeting these costs will absorb the £10.7bn ‘headroom’ money set aside for unexpected expenditure that was built into the MoD’s spending plan. They warned that defence officials would have to find additional savings of £5.8bn over the next decade to ensure affordability. About £1.5bn would come from savings elsewhere in the defence budget, such as military and civilian pay restraint, and reducing the running costs of the defence estate.
In a statement Defence Procurement Minister Harriet Baldwin said the government was committed to delivering “the best kit for our Armed Forces at the best value for the taxpayer”.
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review was critisised for prioritising equipment over personnel, with the MoD suffering a 30% cut in the number of civil servants. Although the defence budget remains under pressure, it is likely that political considerations will prevent further cutbacks to personnel beyond those already planned.
Five anti-Trident protesters found guilty
The Independent reports that five anti-Trident protesters have been found guilty of blockading a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility. The protesters, who barred the entrance to Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire in June of last year, were from the Christian group Put Down the Sword / Trident Ploughshares. The MoD said work on the missile system was disrupted by the protests.
The activists’ defence team argued that they were acting in accordance with their religious beliefs, which they said were protected by the Human Rights Act. However, District Judge Khan said that he did not agree that “that the actions of the defendants were a manifestation of a religious belief” and in any case that “these rights have to yield to the primary right of passing and re-passing the highway” outside the base. They were found guilty of wilful obstruction of the highway and were all sentenced to a conditional discharge of six months with costs of £100 and a surcharge of £20.
The DPF has previously expressed its concerns regarding reports that the MDP complement guarding the AWE could be replaced by service personnel who would not be appropriately trained to manage peaceful protests. We continue to highlight these points, and the importance of maintaining the MDP presence, in our parliamentary and press meetings.
MDP help is welcomed by Garelochhead community council convener
The Helensburgh Advertiser reports that the convener of Garelochhead Community Council has said that he welcomes the presence of MDP officers in the area to help tackle local crime. Watson Robinson spoke to the Advertiser this week following the recent controversy over MDP officers allegedly taking on a greater community role. Police Scotland has refuted claims that the MDP was being used to plug gaps left by the civilian service. Mr Robinson said: “I, like many others, appreciate greatly the job Police Scotland do in our community, adding “However, we are lucky in this area that we also have the MDP to help when and if they are required to ease the burden. He also stated “The MDP are an extremely well organised force, and I have little doubt that their rural patrols have deterred many an individual or individuals with criminality on their mind… Therefore I feel it makes perfect sense for our authorities to investigate if or how they could take a greater advantage of this resource.”
Media reports of increased MDP activity in the area resulted in the tabling of eighteen oral and written questions in Parliament. However, the local response has calmed somewhat after a Government response revealed that the MDP patrols were part of a policy which dated back to 2006, and was consulted on at the time.
MoD faces pressure on single-source procurement
The Financial Times reports that the watchdog that oversees UK defence procurement wants the power to force the Ministry of Defence and its suppliers to disclose information on contracts awarded without open competition. However, the watchdog’s proposals are likely to exacerbate its already difficult relationship with the MoD. The Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) has had three chairmen since its creation in 2015. The call comes as the Government is set to step up the level of its procurement from single-source suppliers, where there is a highly specialised or particularly urgent need that would preclude a competitive tender.
The SSRO has suggested that the MoD may not be enforcing its demands for information for fear of jeopardising relationships with key suppliers and subcontractors. In December, Marcine Waterman, the SSRO’s Chief Executive, told MPs that of the 860 requests for information made by the watchdog to the MoD and the industry, only about 200 had been answered. Moreover, the SSRO was often excluded from examining entire contracts, while all procurement deals signed with foreign governments, such as the UK’s acquisition of the P8 submarine hunter aircraft worth more than £2bn, are exempt from scrutiny.
British soldiers are being failed by Troubles inquiry, Northern Ireland Secretary concedes
The Daily Telegraph reports that the system for investigating murders committed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles “is not working” because it is targeting soldiers rather than terrorists, the Government has admitted. Writing in the newspaper, James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, concedes there is an apparent “imbalance” that has led to a “disproportionate” focus on criminal inquiries involving former soldiers.
The Minister’s admission will fuel urgent demands to end a series of police investigations into historical killings, many of them more than 40 years old. On Saturday, an estimated 1,000 veterans marched on Downing Street to protest at what they believe is the “hounding” of troops who served in Northern Ireland. The rally was organised by the group Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, which arranged for the protest letter to be handed to Theresa May.
Police service ‘still haemorrhaging officers’
The Daily Telegraph reports that the size of the total police workforce in England and Wales has fallen below 200,000 for the first time in more than a decade. Forces employed 198,228 personnel – including officers, civilian staff and PCSOs – at the end of September. The tally fell by 6,201, or 3 per cent, year-on-year – while it has dropped by more than 25,000 compared to a decade earlier. It is the first time the total workforce figure has dipped below 200,000 since 2003. Earlier this month, Britain's most senior police officer declared that the “warning lights are flashing” over crime. Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe raised the alarm after figures laid bare the scale of fraud and cybercrime and showed a jump in violent offences recorded by forces.
The Government insisted that police reform is working. Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said: “Crimes traditionally measured by the Crime Survey for England and Wales have fallen by a third since 2010, to a record low. Through the 2015 Spending Review, this Government has protected police funding – and the public should be in no doubt that forces will continue to have the resources they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe.”
UK police force's monitoring of reporters' phones ruled unlawful
The Guardian reports that judges have ruled that Cleveland police acted unlawfully when they monitored journalists’ phones in an attempt to uncover the source of a series of leaks. The police force used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to seize records of calls totalling more than 1m minutes from three journalists, a solicitor and two police officers after details of internal grievances appeared in the Northern Echo in 2012. The judgment handed down by the tribunal on Tuesday morning says there was “no lawful basis” for accessing the records and that the amount of data obtained from the targets’ phones was excessive. RIPA can be used to check data from phones and other devices to discover evidence of crimes where there is a reasonable chance of prosecution.
The judgment has been sent to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, for their consideration.
Two women among final four for Metropolitan police leadership
The Guardian reports that two women are among the four senior officers to have been shortlisted to succeed Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe as head of the Metropolitan Police. Cressida Dick, a former Met commander currently working at the Foreign Office on secondment, and Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council have made the list. They are up against Mark Rowley, a Met assistant commissioner who leads on counter-terrorism across British policing, and ex-Met veteran Stephen Kavanagh, chief constable of Essex police.
The final decision will technically be made by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who must take into account the views of London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan. It is understood that meetings with those shortlisted were held last week with Khan. The choice is expected to be announced by late February. The candidates are vying to replace Hogan-Howe, who is the first Metropolitan Police commissioner since 2005 to complete a full five-year term in office.