During the past month the news agenda has been dominated by the EU referendum, which will take place on 23 June. With polls showing little between the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’, the referendum campaign has largely overshadowed this week’s local elections, which include the election of Police and Crime Commissioners across the UK.
The local elections have also sparked speculation that Jeremy Corbyn could face a challenge to his leadership over the summer following the referendum. However, Mr Corbyn retains enormous support amongst grassroots Labour activists, many of whom would be loathed to see a successor take his place less than 12 months after his appointment. The latest speculation is that a challenge could be made, but is unlikely to take place in the short term while Mr Corbyn remains so popular amongst Party members.
The headline news in defence during the past month has been two reports from the Defence Select Committee. The Committee concluded firstly that the Government has only reached the NATO target of spending two percent of GDP on defence as a result of ‘shifting the goalposts’ and including expenditure that had previously been excluded from calculations. The Committee stopped short of condemning the Government’s accounting methods, but robustly challenged the inclusion of intelligence and pensions in defence spending figures.
The second Select Committee report concluded the Ministry of Defence should be stripped of its legal immunity from corporate manslaughter charges in the event of the death of personnel during training exercises. The report follows several high profile incidents that have raised questions over the Ministry of Defence’s legal status.
During the past month, the Federation has been preparing for it upcoming annual conference, which will take place in early June. We have also continued to liaise with parliamentarians to brief them on the likely decisions of the Department following the publication of the SDSR at the end of last year.
This has included briefing the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP.
The political approach
In the past month, Federation National Chairman Eamon Keating has met with Rt Hon Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.
This was a particularly important meeting, given Ms Thornberry’s role as an important level of scrutiny of Government defence policy. The Federation of course met and maintained a very positive relationship with one of Ms Thornberry’s predecessors, Vernon Coaker, and her willingness to meet with Eamon is a reflection of the continuing importance the Shadow Defence team places in the MDP.
The meeting was a useful one in ensuring Ms Thornberry was fully briefing on the challenges facing the MDP and the effect these might have on the security of the MoD estate and critical infrastructure. While the Labour Party is currently determining its position – by way of an internal review – on defence issues such as the renewal of Trident, there is a clear understanding that while the deterrent exists, it must be properly defended and secured. The Federation will be meeting with further parliamentarians in the coming weeks – including John Woodcock MP, the chair of Labour’s backbench defence committee.
The issue of security of the MoD estate is particularly topical one for Labour MPs, with a number of parliamentary questions being tabled – including a number by Emily Thornberry – during the past month on the MDP specifically, the size of its workforce and the sites it is responsible for guarding.
The Federation has also made approaches to confirm a parliamentary briefing event after the EU referendum as an opportunity to outline the importance of the MDP and explain to parliamentarians the consequences of the SDSR and any change to guarding responsibilities.
We have separately begun preparations for the Federation’s annual conference, which will be addressed by Defence Minister Lord Howe.
Finally, National Chairman Eamon Keating met last month with officials from the Home Office, who are currently conducting a review of ‘infrastructure policing’. The meeting was conducted with colleagues from the federations representing officers in the British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary. The Federation will be continuing to liaise with the Home Office and will be inputting into its review.
While the Federation has refrained from briefing journalists during the past month given our continued discussion with officials over the future role of the MDP, we have made preparations to publicise the keynote speech at this year’s annual conference.
We have also prepared follow up materials to engage with journalists over continuing issues related to MDP pensions – specifically our dialogue with ministers over the introduction of an Enhanced Effective Pension Age of 60 years.
As with previous newsletters, we would remind any members wishing to contact their local MPs that any correspondence is subject to MDP regulations.