Defence news this week was led by the insistence of backbench Conservative MPs that further defence cuts risked a rebellion that could jeopardise the Government’s slim majority. The 21 MPs, led by Jonny Mercer (a member of the Defence Select Committee who unsuccessfully ran for the Committee chairmanship earlier in the year), have written to new Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to warn against proposed cuts to the Royal Marines and the scrapping of the UK’s amphibious landing capacity. The demand coincided with those of four former defence secretaries, who called for additional funding for the Armed Forces to combat the threats posed by Russia and North Korea.
Despite the intervention of the former ministers, there was no new funding announced for defence when Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced the Budget on 22 November. The Chancellor instead focused heavily on housing development, efforts to improve levels of home ownership particularly amongst younger prospective buyers, and committed additional funding to the NHS.
- Budget 2017: No extra funding for defence
- Tory MPs vow to veto further defence cuts
- MI5 and police cleared of liability over terrorist attacks
- MoD responds to parliamentary questions on Trident safety
- Government accused of slashing £413 million from police budgets
- General hints at cuts to F-35 warplane order
- Royal Navy mission aborted after warship breaks down
- Former CIA Director calls for improved UK cyber defences
Budget 2017: No extra funding for defence
Chancellor Philip Hammond did not announce any additional funding for the Ministry of Defence as part of his annual Budget statement, delivered on 22 November, despite speculation that the Armed Forces could receive up to £2 billion in additional funding.
The Chancellor confirmed that economic forecasts had been revised down from the Spring Budget (the last Budget to be delivered in the Spring), and focused on a range of measures to promote additional housebuilding, and improve home ownership levels. The Chancellor also confirmed that individual Secretaries of State would be responsible for submitting evidence to the independent Pay Review Body (PRB) and would have final decision on pay increases for public sector workers falling within their ministerial briefs.
The absence of any additional MoD funding within the Budget was largely expected following evidence to the Defence Select Committee given by MoD Permanent Secretary Steve Lovegrove. Addressing the Select Committee as part of an evidence session on the MoD’s annual reports and accounts for 2016, Mr Lovegrove confirmed that Secretary of State Gavin Williamson had not spoken to the Chancellor to request additional funding ahead of the Budget.
Mr Lovegrove instead indicated that the Defence Secretary was awaiting the findings of a review of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which is being led by National Security Advisor Mark Sedwill, before discussing funding needs with HM Treasury.
Following the evidence from Stephen Lovegrove to the Defence Select Committee, the lack of reference to defence within the Budget is expected, albeit disappointing, and will do little to address concerns over the potential for further MoD cuts, including to the Royal Marines and amphibious landing capacity. The DPF has contacted the team led by Mark Sedwill, and is arranging a meeting to discuss concerns regarding MDP funding and resources, in order to input into the review of the SDSR.
Tory MPs vow to veto further defence cuts
The Times has reported that 21 Conservative MPs, led by Defence Select Committee member Jonny Mercer, have written to new Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, warning that further cuts to the Armed Forces – including speculated reductions to the Royal Marines and the sale of amphibious landing craft – could provoke a backbench backlash that would threaten the Government’s slim and Democratic Unionist Party-aided majority.
Commenting on the correspondence to the Defence Secretary, Mr Mercer said, “We have drawn up a red line on the strength and capability of our armed forces. At some stage you have to stand up for what you believe in, and we have reached that point now. I’m pleased so many of my colleagues agree.” The letter comes as the Government undertakes a review of the 2015 SDSR, which some commentators have suggested could amount to a further cost cutting exercise for the MoD as it struggles to address a budget deficit of at least £20 billion over the next decade.
The Times additionally noted that the efforts led by Mr Mercer coincided with the intervention of former defence ministers including Mark Francois (now a member of the Defence Select Committee), Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and Sir Gerald Howarth, calling for additional MoD funding to tackle threats posted by particularly Russia and North Korea.
Military sources have indicated Gavin Williamson is prepared to ask the Treasury for additional funding. Mr Williamson is understood to have instructed senior officers to draw up plans for the future of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force that “do more to protect the armed forces.” In a recent interview with The Sun, Mr Williamson promised to consider MoD priorities and financial needs with a “fresh set of eyes.”
MI5 and police cleared of liability over terrorist attacks
MI5 and the police are to be cleared of any liability or culpability over the terror attacks against UK targets earlier this year, The Guardian reports. Following the atrocities in London and Manchester, internal inquiries were undertaken by the police and security services, overseen by barrister David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation.
The reviews are expected to make a series of recommendations to reduce the potential for future attacks, including improvements in intelligence handling, better collaboration between MI5 and the police, and better data handling and sharing. The review is also expected to recommend use of a new computer algorithm to detect behaviour that could indicate involvement in terrorism.
Police have said they want longer sentences for those involved in terrorist propaganda. New figures showed investigators have taken 300,000 items of terrorist propaganda off the internet since 2010, but the rate is slowing down.
Despite the expected findings of the review, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Select Committee is expected to discuss whether it should hold its own inquiry.
MoD responds to parliamentary questions on Trident safety
Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin has responded to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) regarding what recent assessments have been made of the safety of Trident. Ms Baldwin said that, “the safety of the public, our submarine crews, the defence workforce and the protection of the environment remain the Department's priority” and that it “achieves the required standards of nuclear and radiological safety.” However, the Minister also noted that, due to security reasons, the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator Annual Assurance Reports for the periods 2015-16 and 2016-17 will not be published.
Ms Baldwin also responded to a question from Mr Hamilton on the projects and programmes scheduled to expand nuclear infrastructure at Coulport and Faslane. The Minister notes that there are three current projects to improve nuclear infrastructure at Faslane and Coulport, these being the Faslane Nuclear Infrastructure Continuous Availability Project; the Coulport Infrastructure Continuous Availability Project; and the Nuclear Support Hub Project.
Government accused of slashing £413 million from police budgets
The Sun has reported that the Government has reduced police budgets by up to £413 million, despite a pledge to protect constabularies. The figure has been based on independent research by the House of Commons, showing that constabularies received £7.2 billion in the 2017/18 financial year, compared to £7.6 billion during 2015/16. The figures were published on the eve of the Chancellor’s Budget statement.
Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh MP told the Daily Mirror, “Ministers have been caught red-handed. These reckless cuts are a threat to public safety.” A former Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector, Peter Kirkham, also suggested the figures were unsurprising but that the police has been considered to be “crying wolf” when warning of budget cuts: “Response times are longer as fewer officers cover wider areas and so opportunities to catch offenders are lost. Warnings of the consequences were dismissed as scaremongering.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently warned police federations against complaints over funding, instead demanding constabularies ‘get on with the job.’ However, the figures highlight the pressures faced by constabularies across the country; similar to those warned about by the Federation in an open letter last week, which was widely reported in the national media.
General hints at cuts to F-35 warplane order
The Financial Times has reported the Lieutenant-General Mark Poffley, deputy chief of the Defence Staff, has suggested the MoD could reduce the number of F-33B Lightening II fighters it is scheduled to purchase from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The UK had been expected to purchase 135 of the fighters. However, giving evidence to the Defence Select Committee this week, Lieutenant-General Poffley suggested he was “sympathetic” to suggestions the number of purchased fighters could be reduced. The fighters are to serve as the main strike force for the new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The potential for reducing the number of fighters follows concern over the falling value of the pound on major MoD procurement, and questions as to over-running costs for the project.
During the evidence session, MoD Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove, noted that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was yet to make any pitch to the Treasury for more MoD funding, as noted above.
Royal Navy mission aborted after warship breaks down
The Times has reported that HMS Diamond, considered to be amongst the UK’s most technologically advance warships, has aborted a mission to the Gulf and is heading back to the UK after breaking down.
HMS Diamond is a Type-45 destroyer costing c.£1 billion. The revelation is the latest in a series of issues to hit the Royal Navy’s fleet of six destroyers, which have been beset by mechanical difficulties. The other five warships are currently in Portsmouth for routine maintenance.
Former CIA Director calls for improved UK cyber defences
The Daily Mail has reported that former CIA Director General David Patraeus has warned that the UK must improve and increase its cyber defences to prevent extremists acquiring what he described as “virtual weapons of mass destruction.”
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, General Patraeus said, “We will defeat the (IS) army. At some point we will put a stake through the heart of Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State. We are not going to be able to put a stake through the heart of the virtual caliphate, this is ideology that is being propagated on the internet.” He warned that extremists could develop the capability to use cyber weapons to disable infrastructure and major utilities, and suggested the UK needed to improve its cyber capabilities and increase elite troop numbers.