Gerald Howarth: To ensure post-Brexit success, the Government must bolster Britain’s military posture

29 Oct

Sir Gerald Howarth was the MP for Aldershot from 1997-2017, and Minister for International Security Strategy 2010-2012.

As a former Minister for International Security Strategy, I warmly welcomed a review intended to place defence and security within a foreign policy strategic context.

Entirely correctly, the Government has made clear that it wants post-Brexit Britain to play a key role on the world stage. That vision alone calls for a strong military posture because, like it or not, military strength tends to command influence.

It is that strong posture, built over centuries, which has enabled the UK to deploy soft power to significant effect. Loan service officers, joint exercises, training overseas military personnel and the Royal College for Defence Studies all help promote British influence, but our ability to deploy soft power is founded on our hard power – the nuclear deterrent, state-of-the-art kit, and, above all, superbly professional armed forces personnel who have distinguished themselves in recent battles from the Falklands to Afghanistan.

Indeed, the successful Falklands campaign overnight transformed the world’s perception of the UK from a nation in terminal postwar decline to one which once again commanded international respect and propelled Margaret Thatcher onto the world stage.

Increasing global tensions also dictate that we need to increase our defence capabilities – and certainly not cut them. Since the 2010 review in which I was involved, and which was Treasury-driven as a consequence of the £160 billion budget deficit we inherited, much has happened. Take just two examples: in 2014 Russia annexed the Crimea. It did so with complete impunity notwithstanding the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by John Major, under which the US, UK and Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s borders in return for that country destroying its nuclear arsenal.

In the South China Sea, the Chinese Communist Party has persistently annexed uninhabited atolls, ownership of which is disputed with other nearby nations, and turned them into military bases. Again, it has done so with complete impunity, so it is hardly surprising China has taken advantage of Western paralysis to impose draconian new laws in Hong Kong. Britain has a locus: following our withdrawal from East of Suez in the 1960s, the UK drew up the Five Powers Defence Arrangement with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia to safeguard the interests of the latter two.

Our failure to strengthen our defence posture poses the real risk of further instability worldwide.

Britain has an impressive defence industry which a Conservative government should be keen to nurture. For over a century the UK has been a world leader in aerospace and continue to hold that position today through companies like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce but sustained by a broad and innovative SME sector. We are the second largest exporter of defence equipment, after the United States, which not only earns us annual revenues of around £15 billion but enables us to offer tangible support to our friends and allies.

“Buying off the shelf” in reality means buying from the US which is our closest military ally but a formidable competitor in the defence market which has in the past blocked UK military exports containing US components through its application of ITAR (International Trading in Armaments Regulations) restrictions.

As Labour Lord Drayson’s 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy stated, the loss of sovereign capability leads inevitably to loss of operational sovereignty, to which add the loss of those defence exports. The UK is an equity partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, yet the US continues to deny us access to the computer source codes.

Fortunately, the UK has recognised the danger. The Tempest aircraft programme, which is ITAR-free, will deliver a sixth generation optionally manned capability, exploiting new disruptive technologies essential to tomorrow’s battle-winning capability.

It is led by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, supported by Thales UK, Leonardo and missile manufacturer MBDA together with around 600 UK SMEs and institutions. It will generate valuable, new UK technology and employ tens of thousands of skilled people, many in the North of England and Scotland. It is a statement of national intent which also makes economic sense.

The special challenge today is how to maintain effective conventional forces (we cannot expose ourselves to the risk of being outmanoeuvred as a result of having neglected those forces) whilst also developing tomorrow’s technology. You do not win wars using old equipment so investing in future technology like cyber and AI is essential. Funding for defence research has endured a persistent decline in the last two decades; that must change.

[Through no fault of its own, apart from our excellent Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, this Government lacks senior ministers with knowledge of, or experience in, the military. This review must not be rushed and expert advice should be sought and heeded.]

Inevitably, Covid-19 has thrown government financial planning into chaos. Nevertheless, it would be folly, and damaging to the PM’s critical post-Brexit vision for the United Kingdom, if he fails to acknowledge the long-term requirements of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

Abandoning the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review will cause major problems for the MoD which manages an equipment programme stretching over several years. For example, the Tempest programme requires multi-year funding to maintain the confidence of our international partners that the UK remains committed to Tempest. It will also ensure the UK remains ahead of competitor programmes.

Conservatives hold that the first duty of government is defence of the Realm. Money has rightly been found to deal with the pandemic; it now needs to be found to ensure our national security and give credibility to that post-Brexit vision.

Gerald Howarth: To ensure post-Brexit success, the Government must bolster Britain’s military posture

29 Oct

Sir Gerald Howarth was the MP for Aldershot from 1997-2017, and Minister for International Security Strategy 2010-2012.

As a former Minister for International Security Strategy, I warmly welcomed a review intended to place defence and security within a foreign policy strategic context.

Entirely correctly, the Government has made clear that it wants post-Brexit Britain to play a key role on the world stage. That vision alone calls for a strong military posture because, like it or not, military strength tends to command influence.

It is that strong posture, built over centuries, which has enabled the UK to deploy soft power to significant effect. Loan service officers, joint exercises, training overseas military personnel and the Royal College for Defence Studies all help promote British influence, but our ability to deploy soft power is founded on our hard power – the nuclear deterrent, state-of-the-art kit, and, above all, superbly professional armed forces personnel who have distinguished themselves in recent battles from the Falklands to Afghanistan.

Indeed, the successful Falklands campaign overnight transformed the world’s perception of the UK from a nation in terminal postwar decline to one which once again commanded international respect and propelled Margaret Thatcher onto the world stage.

Increasing global tensions also dictate that we need to increase our defence capabilities – and certainly not cut them. Since the 2010 review in which I was involved, and which was Treasury-driven as a consequence of the £160 billion budget deficit we inherited, much has happened. Take just two examples: in 2014 Russia annexed the Crimea. It did so with complete impunity notwithstanding the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by John Major, under which the US, UK and Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s borders in return for that country destroying its nuclear arsenal.

In the South China Sea, the Chinese Communist Party has persistently annexed uninhabited atolls, ownership of which is disputed with other nearby nations, and turned them into military bases. Again, it has done so with complete impunity, so it is hardly surprising China has taken advantage of Western paralysis to impose draconian new laws in Hong Kong. Britain has a locus: following our withdrawal from East of Suez in the 1960s, the UK drew up the Five Powers Defence Arrangement with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia to safeguard the interests of the latter two.

Our failure to strengthen our defence posture poses the real risk of further instability worldwide.

Britain has an impressive defence industry which a Conservative government should be keen to nurture. For over a century the UK has been a world leader in aerospace and continue to hold that position today through companies like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce but sustained by a broad and innovative SME sector. We are the second largest exporter of defence equipment, after the United States, which not only earns us annual revenues of around £15 billion but enables us to offer tangible support to our friends and allies.

“Buying off the shelf” in reality means buying from the US which is our closest military ally but a formidable competitor in the defence market which has in the past blocked UK military exports containing US components through its application of ITAR (International Trading in Armaments Regulations) restrictions.

As Labour Lord Drayson’s 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy stated, the loss of sovereign capability leads inevitably to loss of operational sovereignty, to which add the loss of those defence exports. The UK is an equity partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, yet the US continues to deny us access to the computer source codes.

Fortunately, the UK has recognised the danger. The Tempest aircraft programme, which is ITAR-free, will deliver a sixth generation optionally manned capability, exploiting new disruptive technologies essential to tomorrow’s battle-winning capability.

It is led by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, supported by Thales UK, Leonardo and missile manufacturer MBDA together with around 600 UK SMEs and institutions. It will generate valuable, new UK technology and employ tens of thousands of skilled people, many in the North of England and Scotland. It is a statement of national intent which also makes economic sense.

The special challenge today is how to maintain effective conventional forces (we cannot expose ourselves to the risk of being outmanoeuvred as a result of having neglected those forces) whilst also developing tomorrow’s technology. You do not win wars using old equipment so investing in future technology like cyber and AI is essential. Funding for defence research has endured a persistent decline in the last two decades; that must change.

[Through no fault of its own, apart from our excellent Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, this Government lacks senior ministers with knowledge of, or experience in, the military. This review must not be rushed and expert advice should be sought and heeded.]

Inevitably, Covid-19 has thrown government financial planning into chaos. Nevertheless, it would be folly, and damaging to the PM’s critical post-Brexit vision for the United Kingdom, if he fails to acknowledge the long-term requirements of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

Abandoning the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review will cause major problems for the MoD which manages an equipment programme stretching over several years. For example, the Tempest programme requires multi-year funding to maintain the confidence of our international partners that the UK remains committed to Tempest. It will also ensure the UK remains ahead of competitor programmes.

Conservatives hold that the first duty of government is defence of the Realm. Money has rightly been found to deal with the pandemic; it now needs to be found to ensure our national security and give credibility to that post-Brexit vision.

Judy Terry: Local authorities should be promoting the armed forces as a career choice

29 Oct

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Despite facing a potential unemployment crisis, with up to 4 million out of a job, especially affecting young people, I haven’t heard a single Minister highlighting the extensive career opportunities across the UK’s Armed Services, which are keen to recruit the best men and women to apprenticeships and officer training.

British Forces are amongst the best in the world, highly respected internationally for their leadership and effectiveness, both in combat and when delivering care and support to populations faced with environmental disasters. They work and train in partnership with other Western forces, including America and Europe, across the world, to protect us – and our interests.

Billions of pounds are invested annually in training and equipment, including new aircraft carriers.

Whatever their rank, Forces members are highly skilled decision-makers, building trust with colleagues, used to taking the initiative as well as responding to emergencies both at home and abroad. Within the last year, for example, the Army was deployed in flood zones around the UK, helping to save communities, built the Nightingale hospitals, and is now assisting at Covid-19 test centres.

The Prime Minister is even considering calling on the Army to assist Police in controlling breaches of pandemic protective measures, although Parliament hasn’t been consulted.

Unfortunately, this year’s annual Remembrance Day events to celebrate our military heroes will be curtailed for obvious reasons, but the minute’s silence will still serve as a reminder of how much we owe to them across the generations.

So, young people with good A levels and degrees could serve their country, saving lives, developing fantastic careers, travelling the world, employing their exceptional skills and knowledge, whilst earning a generous salary, from £15,000 as an apprentice to over £50,000.

According to the various websites (just google the Ministry of Defence), there are over 100 roles: from combat to engineer, medical services: nurses, doctors, dentists, radiographers, as well as IT, with cyber security and intelligence an important growth sector. Divers, dog handlers, police services, linguists, chefs, pilots, musicians, chaplains, deck officers, managers, air traffic controllers, logistics… – the world could literally be your oyster. These are lifetime skills, which can be transferred to other organisations, whether in the public sector or private industry.

Unlike private schools, there is a general reluctance in state schools to encourage careers in the Services, which inevitably impacts on diversity ambitions. Given the unemployment crisis, now is the time for local authorities to organise more structured career guidance, using films to illustrate the range of opportunities available, and zoom sessions with members of the Services, representing all ranks and specialisms.

The Government has also launched its campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers, and has committed to expanding green energy and wind farms, but too few young people are aware of how to apply, or what qualifications are needed. There are some fantastic opportunities, with tailored training available; West Suffolk College is an example of how courses are being adapted for new recruits, as well as older people looking to retrain. Local authorities just need to rise to the challenge and communicate.

Judy Terry: Local authorities should be promoting the armed forces as a career choice

29 Oct

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Despite facing a potential unemployment crisis, with up to 4 million out of a job, especially affecting young people, I haven’t heard a single Minister highlighting the extensive career opportunities across the UK’s Armed Services, which are keen to recruit the best men and women to apprenticeships and officer training.

British Forces are amongst the best in the world, highly respected internationally for their leadership and effectiveness, both in combat and when delivering care and support to populations faced with environmental disasters. They work and train in partnership with other Western forces, including America and Europe, across the world, to protect us – and our interests.

Billions of pounds are invested annually in training and equipment, including new aircraft carriers.

Whatever their rank, Forces members are highly skilled decision-makers, building trust with colleagues, used to taking the initiative as well as responding to emergencies both at home and abroad. Within the last year, for example, the Army was deployed in flood zones around the UK, helping to save communities, built the Nightingale hospitals, and is now assisting at Covid-19 test centres.

The Prime Minister is even considering calling on the Army to assist Police in controlling breaches of pandemic protective measures, although Parliament hasn’t been consulted.

Unfortunately, this year’s annual Remembrance Day events to celebrate our military heroes will be curtailed for obvious reasons, but the minute’s silence will still serve as a reminder of how much we owe to them across the generations.

So, young people with good A levels and degrees could serve their country, saving lives, developing fantastic careers, travelling the world, employing their exceptional skills and knowledge, whilst earning a generous salary, from £15,000 as an apprentice to over £50,000.

According to the various websites (just google the Ministry of Defence), there are over 100 roles: from combat to engineer, medical services: nurses, doctors, dentists, radiographers, as well as IT, with cyber security and intelligence an important growth sector. Divers, dog handlers, police services, linguists, chefs, pilots, musicians, chaplains, deck officers, managers, air traffic controllers, logistics… – the world could literally be your oyster. These are lifetime skills, which can be transferred to other organisations, whether in the public sector or private industry.

Unlike private schools, there is a general reluctance in state schools to encourage careers in the Services, which inevitably impacts on diversity ambitions. Given the unemployment crisis, now is the time for local authorities to organise more structured career guidance, using films to illustrate the range of opportunities available, and zoom sessions with members of the Services, representing all ranks and specialisms.

The Government has also launched its campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers, and has committed to expanding green energy and wind farms, but too few young people are aware of how to apply, or what qualifications are needed. There are some fantastic opportunities, with tailored training available; West Suffolk College is an example of how courses are being adapted for new recruits, as well as older people looking to retrain. Local authorities just need to rise to the challenge and communicate.

Bernard Jenkin: A herd immunity policy would mean hundreds of thousands dead. If that’s what’s meant by a Swedish option, forget it.

28 Sep

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee, and MP for Harwich and North Essex.

Some suggest that latest renewal of some restrictions to reverse the resurgence of Covid19 is over-reaction or shows the Government to be preoccupied with the wrong risks. And insist that Sweden is the example that we should now follow.

This denies some basic facts of viral spread. If R-number remains above one, then matters will continue to get worse. The timescale may be hard to predict, but eventually hospital beds would fill up and far more people would die or be permanently damaged by the illness. If R is brought below one, life can return to nearer normal again.

People who invoke ‘herd immunity’ must be honest about what they want, and prepared to defend the likely outcomes of this policy.

The Office for National Statistics estimate is that fewer than eight per cent of people in the United Kingdom have coronavirus antibodies. Given the official death toll of around 40,000 people so far, this is in line with what we would expect from a disease with a mortality rate of slightly under one in every hundred.

This means that, in order to reach general population immunity without a vaccine, at least a further half of the population would have to contract Covid-19 – approximately 30 million people. Given that tens of thousands have died so far, it is not an exaggeration to say that infecting this many would be likely to result in hundreds of thousands of further deaths.

As millions fell ill, they would require hospitalisation, overwhelming the hospitals – even the Nightingale hospitals. While advances in treatment and medicines can reduce the lethality of this disease and the length of a hospital stay, they cannot prevent a patient needing a hospital bed in the first place.

As we ran out of bed space, many would be unable to access basic care. We know that this is likely, not because of any predictions, but because it very nearly happened in the spring.

During the two weeks from the 25th of March, the proportion of English ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients trebled – from 20 per cent to almost 60 per cent. A reminder: this test to hospital capacity was caused by fewer than one in ten people in the UK contracting Covid-19, not half the population.

These are verified, confirmed facts about the spread of the disease in the UK. To claim that these facts are incorrect would require an explanation of why the NHS recorded tens of thousands of deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19, or of why the ONS has not seen tens of millions of people with coronavirus antibodies.

In the absence of a credible explanation for this, we are left with the simple fact that more than 90 per cent of the UK has yet to be exposed to a disease far more virulent than seasonal ‘flu.

Yes, Sweden appears to have avoided the wave of deaths of countries such as the UK and France, while also managing to avoid the draconian spring lockdowns and, so far, the rising second wave of the oncoming winter. So why can’t we mirror its success?

The populations of the United Kingdom and Sweden differ significantly. Moreover, the absence of a national lockdown in Sweden does not mean that the government of Sweden did nothing at all.

First, the population of Sweden is healthier than in the UK. About 20 per cent of Swedes is obese: the UK’s figure is 27 per cent. The average Briton smokes more than 100 more cigarettes per year than the average Swede. This means that, for the average Swede, Covid-19 is a less deadly disease.

Second, Swedish people are more dispersed than in the UK. Sweden has 25 people per square kilometre: the UK has 275. In the UK where the most common household type is a family home with children, but in Sweden more than 50 per cent of people live alone.

So the Coronavirus is far less likely to spread between people in Sweden, because they are less likely to live with someone they could infect. This lower rate of spread means that it is easier for testing, tracking and tracing to suppress the virus. When people already live alone, and far away from other people, they are less likely to have spread the disease to others, lowering the burden on a national track and trace system.

Finally, Sweden may not have imposed a national lockdown, but people there are following social distancing guidelines. According to data seen by the BBC, the average Swede has fewer than one third of the social contacts they had before the pandemic, and surveys from August suggest that almost 90 per cent of people in Sweden are continuing to follow the government’s advice on distancing from other people.

Studies also suggest that far from everyone in Sweden having been infected with Coronavirus (‘herd immunity’), rates of cumulative infection range from six per cent to 30 per cent – but all estimates still leave millions of people still vulnerable to the disease.

Taking all these facts into account, what has happened in Sweden is not a quick rush to mass exposure, followed by population immunity. As before, there is very little evidence that Sweden has seen levels of Coronavirus exposure to put them on the brink of reaching herd immunity. Proponents of this theory require a serious account of how multiple studies have missed millions of infections and recoveries.

Indeed, were Sweden to have achieved herd immunity, the second spikes being seen in Spain and other European countries should not be taking place. This is because, extrapolating backwards from the number of Coronavirus deaths in these countries, they would have already reached a similar level of infection as Sweden.

The more plausible explanation is that the government of Sweden has used social distancing, extensive testing and an effective track and trace system to systematically monitor the pandemic.

This path, in principle, is available to the United Kingdom, but it requires a far more testing and contact tracing than we currently have – which is why military planners and commanders should be brought in to help scale up this part of the response. The current level of social mixing and trace-based isolation is allowing thousands of new cases per day, and this number is growing. Until a vaccine is developed, massively increased test, track and trace is the only way forward. More restrictions are a poor substitute.

To be clear: mass exposure is indeed one way out of the crisis. But those advocating it must be utterly clear that this extraordinary human cost is something that they are willing to have others pay.

Neil O’Brien: Johnson should instruct a team of Ministers to wage war on woke

21 Sep

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Every day brings fresh examples of the woke revolution rolling through western institutions.

The last couple of weeks saw Edinburgh University ‘cancelling’ the great Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume, taking his name off one of its buildings. The BBC broadcasting a comedian joking about killing white people. The Parliamentary authorities considering making MPs undertake “unconscious bias training”. The Natural History Museum reviewing displays relating to Charles Darwin, because the voyage of the Beagle could be seen as “colonialism”. The SNP administration in Edinburgh trying to push through a “Hate Crime” law – despite being warned by everyone from the Police Federation to comedians and novelists that it threatens free speech.

In the US, where the woke agenda is further advanced, it was announced that films must now hit diversity quotas to be eligible to win an Oscar.  The English department at the University of Chicago announced it will admit only those graduate students who plan to work in Black Studies.

I’ve written before about what’s wrong with the woke agenda, but others have put it better than me, and in response to the woke revolution, there’s now a diverse group of thinkers pushing back.

Ed West and Douglas Murray have chronicled the excesses of wokery in books that are funny as well as perceptive.  Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have explained the origins of the woke agenda in the “critical theory” sweeping universities over recent decades.  Tom Holland, though not a political writer, explains how much the woke agenda owes (without realising it) to Christianity.

For me, one of the most compelling critiques is by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, two liberal professors in the US.

They are worried the woke agenda isn’t just undermining basic liberal ideas like free speech and debate, but encouraging younger people to think in ways that are damaging.

They diagnose three bad ways of thinking which have become engrained in US universities: a belief that young people are emotionally fragile and have to be protected from ideas they might find upsetting; a belief that you should always trust your emotions, prioritising emotion over reason; and forms of us-versus-them thinking which divide the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, with no in-betweens.

As Haidt and Lukianoff write, making universities into ‘safe spaces’ with no intellectual diversity is setting people up to fail: students don’t get used to disagreeing reasonably; or understanding that people who don’t agree with you may not be evil. As someone pointed out: you don’t help someone get strong by taking the weights out of the gym for them.

Their book contains hair-raising accounts of the kind of protests and madness this agenda has led to in US universities, increasingly a world of ‘trigger warnings’, ‘no-platforming’ and everyone walking on eggshells for fear of committing ‘microagressions.’

While this may seem remote to us living in Britain and not working in universities, the truth is that ideas from the US relentlessly percolate into the UK.

Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter protests in London, or British teenagers referring to the British police as “Feds”, ideas always blow over from across the Atlantic, so what happens in the US today will likely happen here tomorrow.

I find the woke agenda alarming because it promises a future very different from the one I grew up hoping for. When I was a teenager the future was going to be that we would be increasingly colour-blind.  That people would be treated as individuals, not members of races.  That everyone was capable of fitting into our shared modern, western culture.

Instead, wokeism tells us we should increasingly see each other as members of different races.  That ethnic minorities can’t assimilate into a modern, western culture because that they are (in some ill-defined way) incompatible with that culture.  That young people from ethnic minorities should be on their guard at all times, because they live in a culture which seeps racism from every pore.

Worst of all, it tells us that we must stay in our lane.  That we can’t enjoy another culture, because that’s “cultural appropriation.” That values like working hard or objectivity or the nuclear family are characteristics of white people, not others.

I’m not the first to say it (indeed there’s comedy sketches about it) but in the same way that the extreme left and extreme right are kind of similar, the woke agenda and the racist one have some powerful similarities.

If we think the woke agenda is damaging, divisive and illiberal, what can we do about it?

There’s now a number of campaign groups dealing with different aspects of it. The Free Speech Union does what it says on the tin. The Campaign for Common Sense brings a thoughtful take to the big questions raised by the woke agenda. The Equiano Project and “All In Britain” promote grown-up, non-hysterical discussion about race and diversity.

But what should we do as a Party and a Government?

While the Prime Minister is quite right to speak out on absurdities like the Last Night of the Proms saga, he simply can’t be everywhere, since he has a virus to fight, an economy to save and a Brexit deal to land. So the Government needs to empower a minister, or group of ministers, to lead and deal with this.

Different solutions are possible in different fields. For example, in the civil service, government has more control.  The Government could end programmes like “unconscious bias training” which don’t work and waste money, but have official backing and are compulsory for all staff in many departments.  The other day, it was revealed that the Ministry Of Defence has more diversity and equality officers than the Royal Navy has warships. Do we need so many people in such roles in the public sector?

In other fields like broadcasting, universities and cultural institutions, government has less direct control. Ministers like Oliver Dowden and Gavin Williamson have rightly rapped institutions over the knuckles when they have done things that are unacceptable.

But as well as intervening, government also needs to communicate why this agenda is wrong and divisive, and what it opposes.

Margaret Thatcher could not intervene personally in every departmental squabble.  But she didn’t’ have to. Civil servants didn’t have to wonder what her view on an issue would be. You knew. Because she took time to make arguments of principle, again and again.

That’s what’s needed now. One common theme in many woke rows is that people in positions of leadership simply don’t understand where the boundaries are.

For example, permanent secretaries of various government departments tweeted their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The Civil Service Race Forum attacks government, claiming “many anti BAME policies originated in Whitehall.” Several department’s intranets have promoted highly contentious material about “white privilege” and Britain’s “systemic racism.”

Officials need to understand that they are not posting neutral stuff that everyone agrees on, but one side of a political argument.

When the British Library promoted materials to staff suggesting they should back a campaign by Diane Abbott, how could its leadership not spot that they were violating the rules on political neutrality?

The truth is we all live in bubbles, and if you run a large arts organisation in London most of the people you know probably have a certain world view. Such people need to be reminded that the taxpayers who pay their wages don’t all agree, and they have an obligation to be neutral.

To get them to understand where the boundaries are, government needs to set them out clearly and wholeheartedly.  The Prime Minister has even bigger battles to fight. But he should empower a minister to lay down the law, and wage war on woke.

Protecting British troops may be Johnson’s next clash with his ‘rule of law’ opponents

18 Sep

Perhaps sensing weakness on the question of the ‘rule of law’, opponents of the Government’s proposals to protect British troops from ‘vexatious’ prosecutions have launched another salvo this morning.

Several former senior military figures and Conservative politicians, including Dominic Grieve and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, have written to the Prime Minister to claim that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is “ill-conceived”. They add that:

“This bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation. It would increase the danger to British soldiers if Britain is perceived as reluctant to act in accordance with long-established international law.”

This follows concerns raised earlier in the summer by Jeffrey Blackett, “Britain’s most senior military judge”, that the Bill will encourage prosecutors to pursue the Armed Forces on international war-crimes charges because it only offers protections against domestic prosecutions. (It also excludes, for now, the campaign in Northern Ireland.)

Now, it seems unlikely that this Government is going to concern itself very much with what Dominic Grieve thinks about anything. But this intervention does highlight just how complex the task of rolling back the growing role of the courts in the military, as in other areas of public life, will prove to be.

It seems quite plausible, for example, that a Bill which limits protection to domestic law does risk a ‘waterbed effect’, with prosecutors simply shifting their efforts to the avenues which remain open to them. But that leaves ministers with an unenviable choice: leave soldiers exposed to vexatious suits here in Britain as a lesser evil, or go further than they perhaps intended in pulling the UK out of the broader international system.

Yet it may be that, in the longer term, such a choice can’t be avoided. The system of “long-established international law” referred to by Rifkind et al is not in fact so very old, and there may be no way to find a sustainable equilibrium between the invariable tendency of lawyers to seek to expand their reach and the understandable desire of political governments to limit it. As international law and the human rights system metastasises from limited protections against the worst abuses into an increasingly comprehensive system, the more conflict there will be.

As for the alleged threat to the reputation of the Armed Forces (amongst the lawyers), ministers must balance this against the need to maintain their efficacy, especially in theatres involving complex, asymmetrical warfare against insurgencies or terrorists. One doesn’t have to be Roger Trinquier to recognise how such adversaries might exploit British troops’ exposure to so-called ‘tank chasing’ lawyers.

Perhaps this time the Government will, once again, back down. Boris Johnson generally gives the impression of a man who has found himself at the head of such forces more by accident than design. But if so it will only be a battle postponed. Tennyson’s vision of a slumbering world, “lapt in universal law”, is falling out of favour on the Right.

Daniel Hannan: Does the army really still need tanks? Or the navy aircraft carriers? Or the rest of us, the Trident system?

2 Sep

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

My late father commanded a tank in Italy in 1944. He rarely mentioned it (except, somewhat illogically, when reassuring my mother during car journeys that she could trust his navigation skills) but I always thought it must have been a wonderful thing to do. What a privilege to direct that mighty mass of metal, that extraordinary combination of armour, mobility and firepower.

So my immediate reaction on hearing that tanks might be phased out was one of grumpy and nostalgic scepticism. Tanks were declared obsolete after both world wars, yet they turned out to be vital to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. They played a role in subduing Fallujah in 2004, and have been used more recently in the Russia-Ukraine war. Are we truly prepared to dispense with what, for a hundred years, has been the best way to hold (or seize) ground?

The question needs to be put. We are, as a species, irrationally change-averse, and never more so than when we work for a state bureaucracy. Some of the most inexcusable wastes of money in British history happened because generals, defence contractors and Ministry of Defence officials were unwilling to admit that a shiny new project was already passé.

Think, for example, of the Eurofighter, designed to dogfight Soviet MiGs over the skies of West Germany, and already redundant many years before the first wings were welded. Again and again, that white elephant came up for review – and, each time, the Defence Secretary of the day took the politically easier decision to throw good money after bad.

A Minister who suggests phasing out any part of our established capability will get a reputation for being too clever by half and ignoring the professionals. It is no use pointing out that Ministers are there precisely to resist producer-capture. In any argument between a politician and a craggy-faced retired general, the public will always back the general.

Still, it is the politician’s job to ensure that a necessarily limited defence budget translates into maximum force. So let’s ask the question directly. In an age of irregular warfare and increasingly powerful guided missiles, do we need manned armoured mobile guns?

Iraq and eastern Ukraine were exceptional in that their terrain happened to be ideal for tank warfare – respectively desert and steppe. Tanks are of less value in cluttered or inhabited lands. They may be (as both the exceptions again demonstrate) useful against other tanks. But how useful are they against advanced missile systems? Or, indeed, against low-tech guerrilla forces?

Israel’s offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 exposed the tank’s limitations. Expensive Israeli armour was hammered by cheap IEDs and low-tech missiles. Israeli generals have absorbed the lessons of that campaign. Have their British counterparts?

Actually, yes – at least, to a degree that many will find surprising. Overall, our Armed Forces are in the world’s top five; but, measured by number of battle tanks, we barely scrape into the top 50, well behind Greece, Jordan, Morocco, Romania and the UAE. It makes sense. We are an island nation which has traditionally relied on sea-and air-power. When we do engage on the ground, it is often out-of-area and asymmetric.

So what should we do with our tanks? We can’t put the question off. Whether or not tanks as a concept are outmoded, there is no question that our own main battle tank, the Challenger 2, is showing its age. Since it went into service in 1998, the Americans and the Germans have completed two major upgrades, the Russians five. Our chief armoured vehicle, the Warrior, is even rustier, essentially unaltered since the Cold War.

Given that big changes are overdue, now is the moment to ask whether tanks give us a decent bang for our buck. If we decide that they do – if there is felt to be no other credible way of holding territory – then we should think radically about what the new version might be.

Might we, for example, make a substantially lighter vehicle, easier to airlift and deploy at distance? Might we, in doing so, reduce the manning requirement – or even remove it altogether, relying instead on remote guidance?

I have picked tanks because leaks suggest that they are up for review, but the same logic applies across the board. The most expensive items in our conventional repertoire are our two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. They cost around £6 billion to build, with a similar price tag for their aircraft.

What else might we have done with such a colossal sum? Instead of floating runways which launch manned planes which in turn launch missiles, might it be more cost effective to cut out the aircraft, and simply launch the missiles (or the reconnaissance drones) directly from the ship? Obviously that would imply some diminution in capability, but did we properly consider what else we could have done with the savings, or were we, as with the Eurofighter, beguiled by the sheer vastness of the thing?

Again, simply to raise the issue is to invite an angry reaction from good and patriotic Service personnel whose job is to consider capacity rather than opportunity cost. So politicians rarely do it. Still, any defence review worth the name needs to put hard questions. Do we need a parachute regiment, for example? There are occasions when we need to drop special forces, but how likely are we to need to make a mass airborne deployment?

And, since I’m deliberately raising the most difficult and provocative issues, how about Enoch Powell’s objection to the nuclear deterrent – namely that, since we would never actually use it, it was money down the drain? Paradoxically, more limited nuclear weapons, capable of battlefield use, might be a more credible deterrent.

There may be good arguments, in all these cases, for sticking with something close to the status quo. But let’s hear those arguments without preconditions. Let’s have a no-holds-barred strategic review which sets out to ask how Britain can best defend its interests given the vertiginous acceleration of military technology.

Many of our postwar strategic assumptions are overturned by hypersonic missiles, weapons of extraordinary stealth and destructive power. At the moment of impact, a hypersonic missile is travelling at 1200 miles per hour, and its kinetic force is equivalent to three tons of TNT. Russia, China and the United States are engaged in a hypersonic arms race which makes a nonsense of much of what we used to think about air superiority, armour and the defence of naval vessels. A total overhaul, in short, is both necessary and urgent.

We should, in reassessing our defence needs, look at our allies’ capacity. It seems likely, for example, that in any major engagement, we would be on the same side as the United States and other Anglosphere nations. It makes sense to co-ordinate our procurement, while still ensuring that we can act independently in a Falklands-type situation. What we can’t afford is to cling to current practice for reasons of political convenience.

My father’s regiment, the North Irish Horse, was reduced, between the wars, to a single officer. It rapidly expanded after 1939 to deploy in Tunisia and later in Italy. It exists today only as a squadron in the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry. That is what I call flexibility. Our Armed Forces are extraordinarily good at preserving traditions, but they are also supremely adaptable. It is this second quality, in the end, that wins war

David Skelton and Sam Bowman: Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth should be replaced with a Commonwealth hero

6 Aug

David Skelton is author of ‘Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map’. Sam Bowman is Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute.

The latest piece of modern art hosted on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth left many people bewildered when it was unveiled last week.

Called ‘The End’, it is a large plastic sculpture of whipped cream with a cherry, a fly and a drone on it. Whatever it is supposed to mean, it is vapid and ugly. Given this is one of Britain’s most important public spaces, we can do better.

One way might be to install a permanent statue of one of the many black, Asian, and minority ethnic people who have made contributions to Britain throughout her history. In particular, the contribution of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers to the British war effort in the First and Second World Wars was immense, and has only recently begun to get the attention it deserves, such as with the Commonwealth Memorial Gates at Hyde Park Corner, put up in 2002.

At a time when existing statues have led to debate and division about the representation of ethnic minorities in public monuments, a statue of a Commonwealth war hero on the fourth plinth could be a fitting tribute to the millions of people who helped Britain to triumph in those struggles and a sign to all that they will never be forgotten.

One such hero is Khudadad Khan, the first Indian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Khan, born in the late 19th Century, in what is now Pakistan, served as a machine-gunner during the First World War in the 129th Baluchis.

He was at the front-line as allied forces were desperately trying to protect the ports of Boulogne and Nieuwpoort from the advancing German forces. Both ports were crucial to the Allied war effort. At various points, the German advance looked relentless, with many of the defensive forces being pushed back and the Baluchis being outnumbered five to one. Khan’s machine gun team, though, along with one other, was able to continue the fight until eventually even they were overrun, with all the members of Khan’s team being killed.

Khan was able to play dead until the Germans had gone, when he made his way, badly wounded, back to the regiment. The heroism of Khan and his fellow Baluchis meant that the Germans were held off long enough for Allied reinforcements to arrive, and the ports were kept out of German hands.

His story is a remarkable one, but not as isolated one. In the First World War, some three million soldiers from across the Empire and Commonwealth became involved in the war effort, including 1.5 million from India, 600,000 Canadians, 400,000 Australians, 180,000 from East and West Africa, 100,000 Kiwis and 15,000 from the West Indies. Over five million Commonwealth troops were involved in the struggle against Nazism during World War Two. These were invaluable contributions in these conflicts.

A permanent commemoration of the valour and bravery of Commonwealth troops over the centuries would be a fitting use for the fourth plinth. This could be unifying, reminding people that those who want Nelson’s column to fall are a tiny minority, and that most Britons are proud of the contributions their ancestors have made to the country’s history. It would recognise the contributions of people who have hitherto been given less credit than they deserved.

All of this would be far more meaningful and inspiring than the art that has occupied the fourth plinth since the late 1990s (it had been empty until then). Recent occupants have included a large blue cockerel (“a feminist sculpture”, according to its creator) and ‘Really Good’, a giant bronze thumbs up, which the Guardian described as “a sly parody of the emptiness of public art”. The problem with art like this is that the rest of us have to look at it.

Trafalgar Square should be about commemorating the valour and bravery of British and Commonwealth troops and their contribution to great military victories, not ugly, shallow gimmicks. You might call this campaign “Whipped Cream Must Fall”, although the current occupant should still see out its normal term on the plinth…

But once that’s over, we could take that moment to recognise the sacrifices made by Commonwealth soldiers throughout Britain’s history, saying to them that they deserve pride of place in Britain’s most important celebration of its military past.

A statue of Khudadad Khan, or another hero like him, on the fourth plinth would be the perfect reminder of the sacrifices that so many troops from around the Commonwealth made for our freedom, and a chance to put up a new statue instead of tearing one down.

Tory MPs, Downing Street and the Treasury are ready to clash over plans to cut the army to 60,000. Who will win out?

21 Jul

In Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s White Flag, their books about Britain’s defence capability, there is a chapter on “Operation Tethered Goat”, which looks at the army’s presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

Part of it describes the 800-strong NATO UK-led Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), as it is called, stationed in an encampment “at the end of a dusty road an hour’s drive from the Estonian capital of Tallinn”.  The authors go on to identify how it was originally intended to be provided with 18 Challenger tanks.  It got ten.

The RAND corporation reported that however they war-gamed a Russian invasion involving conventional armed forces, these reached Tallinn and Riga within 60 hours.  “This is why some in the armed forces privately call the EFP in Estonia ‘Operation Tethered Goat’ “, write Oakeshott and our proprietor.

If Downing Street puts its plans for defence spending into effect, expect the prospects of what the authors refer to as “a small but fierce battalion of UK troops”, from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, to be fiercely debated, along with those of an entire division of the British Army – and our defence strategy as a whole.

The background is well known.  Dominic Cummings has long had an interest in revisiting defence spending.  “He believes that the British state is wasteful; that the most wasteful part of the British state is the Ministry of Defence, and that the most wasteful part of the Ministry of Defence is its procurement function”, as one Tory MP puts it.

Not that this well-placed participant in defence debates believes that Cummings is necessarily wrong.  He has read Boris Johnson’s adviser’s profuse and splenetic blogs on defence, which also cover the Pentagon’s use of artificial intelligence, the history of modern weapons development, drone swarms, equipment safety and (topically) China.

A section on Government procurement is sub-headed, Apolalypse Now-style, “the horror, the horror”.  This would also be a fair description of the reaction when it was reported that Cummings has been given permission “to tour some of Britain’s most highly classified national security sites as part of his plan to radically shake up the military”.

There will be much more to his scheme, and to the defence, security and foreign policy review, than the future of Ministry of Defence procurement – or even of the army.  It must weigh the future of the navy, internal security, cyber and the air force, not to mention the security threats posed by China, radical Islam and Russia, plus others.

But the prospects for the EFP in Estonia, and indeed those of the Third (United Kingdom) Division are at stake.  It is, the Army declares, “the only division at continual operational readiness in the UK” – in other words, the only one of three prepared for action in Eastern Europe.

The word on the defence street is that Downing Street has a proposal to cut the army to 60,000 – not the first time that this figure has been deployed.  How can it possibly make sense?  “It depends what your objective is,” one backbench source told ConservativeHome.

“If your defence effort is concentrated against Islamist terror in Britain, you don’t need nearly that many.  If you want to fight in Estonia, it isn’t enough – you need as many as you can get.  For the Middle East, you’d want something in between”.

The review itself is already the subject of swirling internal spats and, as noted above, this isn’t the first time that a cut to 60,000 has been mooted.  Or that army numbers themselves have been reduced.  On paper, its “establishment strength” has come down to 82,500.  In practice, that means a real capacity of about 74,000 regulars.

“It’s been 15 per cent or so beneath strength for years,” another defence-minded MP said.  “The generals get their budget, complain about the army being downsized – and pocket savings for kit”.  So it has been since the Levene Review years, he said.  “We haven’t done badly on reserves; the real hole is in the regulars.”

The army has already reorganised itself in the wake of recent defence and security reviews – see the emergence of “Strike” – and optimists argue that more kit all round can substitute for boots on the ground.  That Apache attack helicopters, for example, can assail more tanks at once – or that robots will eventually replace men almost entirely.

Conservative MPs are unlikely to be among them.  Forty-five members of Parliament have served in the armed forces as regulars or reservists.  No fewer than 41 of them are Tories, most of whom are ex-army.  Off the top of our heads, we name two senior Select Committee chairs by way of example: Tom Tugendhat and Tobias Ellwood.

Boris Johnson cannot simply impose a cut to 60,000 on Parliament.  For a start, there is Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, to consider, if he survives any coming reshuffle.  Then there is the legislature itself.  There are questions, debates, bills that could be creatively amended – not to mention the defence estimates.

Today, Mark Francois will release the second part of his report into army recruitment (he wrote about the first part on this site three years ago) – a reminder that interest in the armed forces on the Tory benches blooms perenially.  There are three possible outcomes to the future of the army when the reviews make their recommendations.

The first is the most likely: namely that, in the manner of previous defence reviews, there is a decision to muddle through.  Cummings and others get the cyber investment they want; the army’s headline number settles down at roughly the real figure it is now.  No-one is exactly happy but no-one is very unhappy either.

The second is that the army is reduced to 60,000 people.  This is almost certain not to happen – because Conservative MPs would kill it.  If a band of perhaps 20 can force Minister to turn tail on Huawei, 40 or so can easily do so on such cuts to the army.

The third that Cummings and company get their cyber; that the army stays at 80,000; that the other services are also shielded from economies.  Given Boris Johnson’s inclination to spend spend spend as well as build build build, one would have thought this a runner.

Except that Rishi Sunak is already keeping the economy afloat on a tide of borrowed money, and this site is told that he and the Treasury team are getting very restive.  They will be well aware of the Ministry of Defence’s unreformed history over procurement.

It looks from here as though a political pile-up is coming, and it’s impossible to say who will emerged from it least damaged.  Meanwhile, in Estonia, our soldiers watch and wait for the Russian conventional assault that will, God willing, not come. Cummings and the strategic review, by contrast, are knocking at the door.