The past month was tragically dominated by the terrorist attack on Westminster.
The Defence Police Federation extends its condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the attack; and our thoughts and prayers to those injured, their friends and families.
And we pay tribute to the bravery of PC Keith Palmer, who was killed when confronting the terrorist, and to the members of the emergency services, who courageously rushed to the scene.
The attack has led to two reviews of security at the Palace of Westminster, while security across London has been increased with an even greater police presence in recent weeks.
The MoD has continued to show signs of the financial challenges it faces during the past month, with suggestions that the number of Royal Marines could be reduced. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon declined to rule out reductions to the Marines’ headcount, and inevitably senior defence commentators have been quick to criticise any suggestion of cuts.
Prime Minister Theresa May has also formally begun the process of the UK’s departure from the European Union with the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. The notification to the EU Commission marks the start of a two-year negotiating period, although it’s worth noting that this timeframe will be significantly contracted due to elections in France, Germany and Italy.
Closely linked to Brexit has been a renewed push for Scottish independence. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted a possible triggering of Article 50 at the start of March by announcing her intention to secure authority to pursue a second independence referendum. Mrs Sturgeon has since won the approval of the Scottish Assembly in a closely fought vote – but the vote only permits Mrs Sturgeon to seek Westminster approval for a referendum. Parliamentary consent is required for a vote to take place – and while it’s likely Westminster will ultimately agree, the Prime Minister has been quick to put down any suggestions a vote could take place before the conclusion of Brexit negotiations.
The DPF’s work over the past month has focused on communication with senior journalists and Members of the House of Lords ahead of a debate on the Armed Forces Act. We have also remained in close contact with former Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP, who continues to table parliamentary questions relevant to the MDP.
The political approach
· Briefing of peer: Armed Forces Act debate
· Briefing former Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP
In the past month, the Federation has been in contact with approximately 20 Members of the House of Lords, who had been confirmed to speak during a debate on the Armed Forces Act.
These included established contacts such as former Defence Minister (with responsibility for the MDP) Lord Robathan and Admiral Lord West. They also included a number of additional peers – making the debate a useful opportunity to follow up on recent meetings with former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards, and to increase the DPF’s / MDP’s bank of parliamentary supporters and advocates.
As the debate focused on international relations and issues such as the procurement of major assets such as the aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, the MDP was not referenced during the debate. However, the Federation has ensured a greater number of peers are acutely aware of the demands on the MDP; with Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Baroness Jolly (who we met with several weeks ago) also indicating she may table parliamentary questions that will help demonstrate the need to protect MDP resources and retain its capacity.
We have additionally been in contact with former Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP. Mr Jones has tabled a series of parliamentary questions related to the MDP in recent months, with most recent requests being for information on the MDP budget for recent financial years.
We have met with Mr Jones previously and he remains very supportive of both the Federation and MDP. We hope to meet with him in the coming weeks and are keen to work with him to identify any additional points of inquiry that can be addressed via parliamentary questions.
· Follow up on briefing with Lord Richard with meeting with former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Stirrup (recommended by Lord Richards)
· Liaise with supporters in the House of Lords regarding future parliamentary questions
· Meet with Kevan Jones MP and assist in future topics for parliamentary questions
· Follow up briefing with the Clerk of the Defence Select Committee to input into the Committee’s future work
During the past month, the Federation has remained in contact with journalist contacts, and has secured interest from two senior national correspondents in a briefing meeting. These journalists are Richard Ford (Home Affairs Editor, The Times) and Jamie Grierson (Breaking News Reporter, The Guardian).
These meetings/contacts will build upon our communication with colleagues of Richard and Jamie (the Federation has good relationships with the defence correspondents/editors of both newspapers) – enabling us to highlight concerns to the public when required.
· Confirm meetings with Richard Ford and Jamie Grierson
· Alert media contacts to the Federation’s annual conference in June
As per previous newsletters, we remind members that any communication with their local MP is subject to MDP regulations.