Aamer Sarfraz: Security guards aren’t getting the recognition or rights they deserve. It’s time politicians changed that.

20 Jul

Lord Sarfraz is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and a Member of the Science and Technology Committee.

There are 370,000 licensed security professionals in this country, more than double the combined manpower of the British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force. They include security guards, door supervisors, and CCTV operators.

These men and women are at the front line in our banks, supermarkets, nightclubs and sporting events. Sadly, little attention is paid to their welfare.

The job of a security guard is very challenging.  A study by the University of Portsmouth found that 50 per cent of security guards face abuse once a week, and 40 per cent show symptoms of PTSD. Security guards work long hours, usually standing, with little opportunity for career progression. It is unsurprising the sector has high staff turnover.

Security guards are not employees of the establishments at which they are deployed. As contractors, they do not share in employee benefits, such as insurance or health care. Many are hired by small security firms, who offer no benefits at all. 

Critically, security guards don’t usually receive the hourly wages billed by security firms on their behalf. As an example, a security firm may charge a client £15 per hour, but most security guards earn close to the £8.91 minimum wage, with the difference kept by contractors and sub-contractors. The top five security firms in the UK have combined revenues in excess of £1.5 billion.

During the pandemic, security guards served diligently, like many frontline workers. The ONS published data in March 2020, stating that security guards faced the highest risk of death from Covid-19, more than any other occupation. We rightly clapped for carers, but security guards get virtually zero recognition.

The UK security sector is growing at six per cent annually, and given work conditions, there will no doubt be a shortage of staff in this sector. Unlike Uber drivers, security guards don’t benefit from “surge pricing” when demand is high.

Security guards invest in their own training and licensing – none of this is paid for by their employers. Training covers criminal and civil law, report writing, maintaining evidence, crime scene investigation, drugs, first aid and CPR, communication skills, firefighting, managing vulnerable people, conflict management, and use of force. All of this content, akin to a mini MBA, is delivered in less than one week.  

Once a prospective security guard completes their training, they have three years to apply for a security license, which is in turn valid for another three years. As such, a security guard could go six years with no refresher training.

A select group of security professionals, door supervisors, participate in a “physical training” module, in which they learn how to restrain people and manage rowdy crowds. This training is delivered in one day, with no simulations or exercises thereafter. The vast majority of security guards are offered no physical training whatsoever. Yet we expect them to manage a football mob better suited for riot police.

The Security Industry Association (SIA), established under the Private Security Industry Act 2001, is responsible for regulating the security industry in the UK. Today, I am tabling a written question in the House of Lords asking the Home Office what their strategy is to protect the mental and physical wellbeing of security guards. Security guards keep our families safe every day, and we owe it to them to recognise their work.

Julian Brazier: The Integrated Review is groundbreaking, but doesn’t go far enough in addressing the Army’s weaknesses

19 Jun

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

Recent exposure of the weaknesses in the Ajax light tank further fuel the view that the Army has drawn the short straw in the Integrated Review (IR). Its re-equipment programme is in trouble, while many are focused on the cut in regular personnel numbers.

First some context. The IR is genuinely groundbreaking. It prioritises a more powerful Navy (rightly for an island nation with Britain’s maritime tradition) and Strategic Command which owns key portfolios like cyber, space and special forces.

The Review emphasises transformative technologies and artefacts like artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and drones. It recognises that, with civilian technology rapidly evolving, this can only be delivered through a whole force prism: regular forces, reserves, contractors and civil servants (including GCHQ’s experts and civilian technologists).

Against this template, today’s Army is hampered by a grim legacy. First, the bravery and professionalism of our young officers and soldiers was not matched by the wisdom of its senior commanders in the two major Army-led conflicts of the past generation, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The surrender of Basra, and its recovery by a combined force of Iraqis and Americans, was a national humiliation. The “Platoon Houses” strategy in Helmand flew in the face of established principles of war, cost soldiers’ lives, led to the deaths of many civilians in Helmand, and drove angry young Afghans into joining the Taliban. Again, we had to be bailed out, this time by reinforcements from the US Marines.

The resultant heart-rending trickle of returning dead and maimed young men and women fractured public confidence in the Army’s work. As General Sir Nicholas Carter, the current Chief of Defence Staff, has remarked, the British people sympathise with soldiers but have lost empathy for their job. This was compounded by the outsourcing of recruiting a decade ago to Capita whose dismal performance left the Regular Army thousands short and handicapped the growth of the Army Reserve.

It must be hard for the current generation of generals to listen to lectures in the media from their predecessors who bequeathed them this poisoned chalice.

This legacy is worsened by a third factor. While Royal Navy and RAF investment is mainly concentrated in a few huge long-term programmes from Trident successor to Tempest, as the manpower intensive service, the Army has large numbers of smaller programmes, usually with shorter life-cycles. The result has been that, in successive hiatuses in MoD’s finances over the past generation, the easiest option has been to cancel Army’s equipment, leaving it with an ageing portfolio.

The centrepiece of the Army is its warfighting division. Despite new technologies, our major allies – and potential adversaries, like Russia, China and Iran – recognise that armour remains a key component. Britain plans two future tanks: 148 upgraded Challenger main battle tanks and a family of 589 Ajax light armoured vehicles for armoured reconnaissance roles. Sadly, neither is a good story.

Taking Ajax first, reported weaknesses include excessive vibration leading to an inability to fire on the move, damage to the health and hearing of crews, a de facto speed limit of just 20mph, and an inability to reverse over a 20mm step – all this in a role where agility is critical. Nevertheless, the suite of advanced weapon systems for the Ajax family is remarkable and, if these issues can be overcome, offer an important step forward. It is too soon to give up on Ajax – despite the £3 billion already spent.

In contrast, the proposal to re-turret Challenger, has little upside. Fixing an existing gun, in a new turret, to a tank without the matching turret ring, combines high technical risk with depressingly low technological ambition. If, as it is alleged, only one prototype is planned, and the development and production phases will be telescoped, it will also fly in the face of costly lessons of the past. Furthermore, the projected number is too few to be credible or economic.

It would be better to proceed with only one risky programme, Ajax, accept a trough in main battle tank capability, save money in the short term, and then participate in either the American or German programmes for a new generation of tanks.  If Ajax fails, MoD could up the number of those and top up with an off-the-shelf recce vehicle.

Army reformers have moved forward where they can. Sandhurst is full again and soldier recruiting has recovered. Soldier retention has improved too although for officers it has been damaged by the bizarre Future Accommodation Model (FAM), imposed by MoD.

The latter allocates houses based on family size rather than rank so a private with a large family gets the house which a young company commander would have occupied until recently. This is a system used by no other army in the West and discriminatory to those who cannot have children. (It equally affects the RAF, but not the Navy; with its people concentrated in three large coastal cities; owner occupation for naval families is the norm, an option the others cannot follow).

The new programme of “rangers”, second line special forces, is an important innovation, alongside the shift towards more drones, after the lessons from Armenia. Given the tight financial constraints, the choice of Boxer to replace the Warrior as the infantry’s battlefield taxi also looks sound.

The Army Reserve has rebuilt, and reserve units are now routinely carrying out tasks from armoured recce in Poland to peacekeeping in Cyprus to Covid testing here. The Army has also set the pace in integrating senior reservists into their decision making – a process which the RAF and Strategic Command are now following but the Navy, perhaps emboldened by recent financial victories, has studiously avoided. Not surprisingly, the latter are now falling behind in areas like cyber.

Lord Lancaster’s innovative paper FR30 points to additional ways that Defence can grow capability affordably, but emphasises that individual reserve units need to be larger if they are to play the front line roles they do in our English-speaking allies.  More than half the US Army is in the National Guard and USAR, including most infantry brigades. Moving more capability to the reserves makes sense.

What is urgently needed is to halt the Challenger upgrade programmes before more money is wasted, wait to join the next generation of tanks, fix Ajax, and stem the flow of young officers, not least by scrapping FAM. This would enable a credible regular armoured division, backed by a genuine reserve capability which enabled the fielding of a large, capable army at longer notice.

Britain’s army can become the best again, but only if the land forces element of the IR is revisited.

Andrew Murrison: There can now be no question about the Government’s timeline for opening up. June 21 must stand.

9 Jun

Rt Hon Dr Andrew Murrison MP has been leading military vaccination teams in London and the South West.

The vaccination programme has been truly awesome. It’s been a privilege to be involved at the coalface, leading military vaccination teams that have protected thousands of people. So successful has the national programme been, there can now be no question about the Government’s timeline for opening up. June 21 must stand.

It’s been a struggle reconciling Dominic Cummings’ select committee download with a series of NAO reports on the Government’s handling of the pandemic. God they’re dull, but there’s useful stuff between those beige pages for those that can be bothered to look. By the time the full public inquiry comes around workmanlike scrutineers like the NAO will have likely made all the learning points. Hopefully this government and the next will have actioned them. The only thing for the inquiry will be to send out the tumbrils. That’s what the media, opposition and some figures on the government benches are slavering over like Pavlov’s dogs.

Meanwhile government will be broadly content with the “learnings” published by the NAO last month in the latest of its pandemic handling series. But privately ministers will have been less pleased with the rusty old tool box they opened 15 months ago. On that at least – the absence of state preparedness in the UK and across the western world – Cummings is right. To their credit, ministers have been retooling public health institutions at pace to deal with infections – the old enemy that never went away.

Happily, I’ve spent 10 weeks well away from our barely functioning parliament giving and supervising thousands of jabs in London and the South West. I have some learnings of my own, none of which feature in the NAO report.

First, we need to decide what price in lives lost from a particular cause is societally acceptable before kicking off a war economy with all its downside in liberty, livelihood, health and the future of young people. What triggers future government intervention on the unprecedented scale endured since last March?

We have some figures that help frame the debate. Six years ago we lost over 28,000 to seasonal flu. Don’t remember? Me neither, and I can’t find any reference to it in Hansard for that year. We haven’t – at least up to now – locked down or even done the hands, face, space thing as seasonal flu sweeps through each winter.

There’s an even bigger figure that society is apparently willing to tolerate. As the Chief Medical Officer pointed out last month we lose in excess of 90,000 each year to smoking. That puts a huge, completely avoidable, burden on health services whose protection we were told was one of the prime imperatives at the start of this crisis.

Indeed, protecting the NHS was the reason for restrictions incalculably more onerous than a ban on the poison tobacco. Chris Whitty did not say, save lives, protect the NHS, ban smoking, but he might have done because that’s where his logic leads.

But we have closed down society for more than a year to save the same sort of numbers. Here’s where logic rubs up against political reality. In tackling the most agonising question, we don’t “follow the science” at all. No politician can possibly do so.

I love experts. I used to be one. But it’s in their nature, singularly and collectively, to lay it on thick. Their industry depends on it. They play it safe – none of them wants to be caught understating risk. Wider societal and economic downside is not their prime consideration and “could” is one of the most mutable words in the English language.

Chief among experts to be handled with care are behavioural scientists who have been second guessing how people might react to government interventions. Their product – project fear, nudging – verges on the sinister. Furthermore, empirically on the light side, it has a habit of misfiring. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with anecdote, only that it has to be properly weighed and balanced.

Chatting with people while vaccinating in East London, for example, shaped my thinking about why some groups were proving harder to reach than others. A general scepticism of the State’s good intentions is in play mixed with distrust of the pharmaceutical industry – what readers of John le Carré’s novel set against medical trials in developing countries might call The Constant Gardener effect.

We need to harness the volunteer spirit that has been such a positive feature of this pandemic. The yellow vested volunteer stewards at test and vaccination centres putting themselves at risk and out in all weathers have been fantastic. I have seen medical students drafted in like it’s the 1940s and lay people – St John’s volunteers and combat soldiers – taught to vaccinate. But the crisis teaches us that above all we need trained medics held at readiness.

Armed Forces Reserves, the special constabulary and retained fire service offer models to pick from. I admire my colleague Alan Mak’s attempt through his private member’s bill to create a NHS reserve. I’d sign up in a heartbeat. We need to capture the recently retired and those clinicians currently in non-patient-facing roles whose skills need little updating.

Many of them tore their hair at a re-engagement process so achingly Sir Humphrey that many just gave up. Without too much drama we could have a light touch annual online check and update for those leaving frontline service so that they could quickly be drafted in when required.

NHS staff typically retire in their mid 50s with many workable years ahead. Many, and one hopes their professional and regulatory bodies – even their trade unions like the BMA that are not listed among the heroes of this crisis – would see continuing engagement as part of the duty that comes with membership of altruistic professions.

If we had had the framework and human resources to undertake proper old-style contact tracing and isolation, the sort of thing that dominated public health until antimicrobials and vaccination did for TB, we might have been able to mount the lockdown busting, intensely local early intervention seen in parts of East Asia but which we had to ditch almost before it started. Building that capacity has to be a priority in preparation for the next big one. For that you need a workforce that can be mobilised fast.

Mobilisation reserve service has bookended my parliamentary career – in Iraq in 2003 and in the pandemic Great Patriotic War. It has been a massive privilege to serve in uniform on the front line of the century’s biggest geopolitical events. The military has emerged from two starkly different engagements with its public reputation enhanced.

This time, much of the military’s work has been in communities where these days it is rarely seen, even regarded with suspicion. But the warmth of the public’s reaction to soldiers. sailors and airmen who have been truly awesome as vaccinators, porters and test site marshals has been humbling. Despite a deliberately low profile approach taken by the MoD, I suggest Operation Rescript has done more for civ-mil relations than any number of Armed Forces days.

In the breach whatever the threat, the Queen’s men and women belong to the public they serve. That sense of proprietorship is healthy in any democracy. There’s no doubt it’s been advanced during this crisis.

Garvan Walshe: The Integrated Review’s tilt to Asia could leave us vulnerable closer to home – and Putin

18 Mar

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party

The Integrated Review has emerged as two documents in one. Much of it focuses on trying to bring together different types of threat to our security – from hostile states to terrorist groups, hybrid warfare and misinformation, as well as longer term problems like climate change.

It is full of sensible recommendations for “deeper integration across government”, better crisis management, more coherent policy development and so forth. This is as fine as it is not new (remember Tony Blair’s “joined-up government”?). It would be strange policy paper indeed that advocated the promotion of incoherence and the implementation of contradictory policies.

But government always has to do many different things at once, each making compelling (but often contradictory) demands on policy, reflecting different political constituencies and requirements, and promoted by people with the different personal agendas, as is to be expected in a democracy. Addressing this diversity takes time and thought that is always in short supply. The review is part of that process of thought, and worthwhile for that reason alone.

It is also the first serious attempt at developing a new foreign policy doctrine for the UK since Brexit, and the Government has been wise to wait until the end of the Trump Administration before releasing it.

An unstable, corrupt, semi-authoritarian United States would have made an uncomfortable partner indeed in a world otherwise dominated by a resentful European Union and an assertive China. It is Biden’s restoration of sane, boring US leadership that makes a realistic post-Brexit foreign and security policy feasible. The Review is right to worry about China’s rise, and right, too, to recognise that the post-cold war world moment of Atlantic triumph is passing.

This last half decade has seen the return of geopolitics in the assertion of power by an adventurous Russia and an increasingly hardfline China.

Yet if there is cause for concern in this Review it is that the politics has crowded out the geo. Take, for instance, increasing the cap of available nuclear warheads. Perhaps it is useful to have the freedom to have more available, but without more submarines to launch them it is hard to see what practical they could it could have. It’s not as if the new Dreadnought-class submarines would have time, during a nuclear exchange, to swim back up the Clyde to reload. The proposal did, however, managed to nicely provoke the left.

It’s the “geo” that should give more pause for thought. The Review grandly divides the world into “Euro-Atlantic” and “Indo-Pacific” regions, without really acknoweledging that we’re right in the middle of one of them, and 6,000 miles away from the other.

I’m all in favour of standing up to Chinese aggression (and was even involved in this effort to come up with some ideas about how it might be done), and the Government, again, is right to reverse the beggary of the Osborne-Mandelson erea, when Falun Gong flags were removed from protestors lest they offend the Chinese premier, and the unwise and expensive contract for Hinkley Point C was agreed. Yet strategy is the art of applying means to secure ends, and this is where the Review’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” falls short.

It is indeed the case that the most serious threats to democracy and freedom on this planet are likely to emerge from the Chinese Communist Party, but it doesn’t follow from that that Britain’s main role should involve the prepositioning of military equipment in Asia.

Rather, the greater risk of conflict in Asia means that the UK’s aviation and maritime capability would be required to maintain deterrence against Russia in the event of a major conflict in Asia on which US resources had to be concentrated.

That would clearly be much harder achieve if most of the Royal Navy is in the Pacific protecting the Queen Elizabeth from Chinese anti-ship missiles. Such back-filling may not be the most exciting task but, given the facts of geography tilting to Asia, we risk finding ourselves in the position of the 1990s Colombian goalkeeper Higuita, who would pay upfield while leaving his net undefended.

It is in Europe, after all where Russia tries to make inroads, to the alarm of Poland, the Baltic states and the Nordic countries. It is to Europe’s south where the main ungoverned spaces that host terrorist training camps survive, and it is to Europe’s south-east where a difficult Turkey-EU relationship poses problems in the Western Balkans and Aegean.

And as much as the natural impulse of Brexit is to prove Britain’s openness and optimism by striking out to Asia, the Indo-Pacific tilt increases Britain’s security dependence on Europe, and in particular on the EU’s own institutions that are growing in military and policy-coordination capability. The debate in Paris and Berlin as well as the more traditionally integrationalist Brussels Rome, and Madrid now centres around achieving “strategic autonomy” (code for being able to do more without the US) for a more integrated European policy bloc. One of the strongest arguments against it has been that doing so would unnecessarily alienate the UK, whose interests also require it to contribute to European security.

The creation of such a strategically autonomous bloc has not, to put it mildly, been a British foreign policy objective over the last few hundred years, but a British decision to concentrate on projecting power in Asia would leave gaps, in the event that the United States is unable or unwilling to come to Europe’s defence. If the Government is convinved that a tilt to the Indo-Pacific is in the national interest, it needs to give more thought to who will backfill for us, and in particular our Nordic allies, when the next Russian provocation comes.

Allan Mallinson: What is the army for?

30 Aug

Allan Mallinson is a former soldier, novelist and writer. 

So it leaked out that the MoD is considering scrapping its tanks. And Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, says it would be better if the MoD waited for the strategic direction to emerge from the Cabinet Office’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

They’re both right. Logically, decisions about tanks – the heavy end of army business – ought to follow from how the Review sees the future. On the other hand, the MoD has a budget to manage and can’t assume it will get bigger. They’ve been looking at options for a “strategic pause” in procurement for the past two years. That’s what staff work is about: possibilities, options, risks. Besides, they’ve been asked specifically by the Review “What changes are needed to Defence so that it can underpin the UK’s security and respond to the challenges and opportunities we face?”

I know this because I’ve been asked the same. Last week I received an invitation from the MoD to enter a submission. It was no particular honour. Everyone is invited: see the link here.

We’ve been here before. In 1998 the new Blair government had celebrity focus groups for its Strategic Defence Review. It made participants feel important. They bought into the outcome, which by and large they agreed was a good one, which it would have been if only the premises had held good, which they didn’t, and if Gordon Brown’s Treasury had funded it, which they didn’t. Perhaps this time things will be different.

The Integrated Review intends to “define the Government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade”. It will set “the long-term strategic aims of our international policy and national security, rooted in our national interests, so that our activity overseas delivers for the British people.”

It will “re-examine the UK’s priorities and objectives in light of the UK’s departure from the European Union and at a time when the global landscape is changing rapidly.” For it foresees “increasing instability and challenges to global governance”, adding that last year witnessed the highest number of state-based conflicts since 1946.

In the last decade it estimates that “more than half the world’s population lived in direct contact with, or proximity to, significant political violence”, and that by 2030 some 80 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states.

It’s not all bad news, though. The Cabinet Office believes that in 2030 the UK will be “stronger, wealthier, more equal, more sustainable, more united across nations and regions.”

In asking what changes are needed to Defence, the Review adds that submissions “focusing on the changing character of warfare, broader concepts of deterrence, technological advantage and the role of the Armed Forces in building national resilience are particularly welcome.”

So, not exactly blue-sky thinking, but certainly not (too) constrained. My inclination, however, as I was first a soldier, is to leave vexed questions such as Trident replacement, the superiority of land-based airpower, and the vulnerability of our “carrier-strike”, and instead ask rather more basically “What is the army for?” (Not “will be for“, because that implies it has no enduring purpose).

For the army is in a very present predicament. According to one former Chief of the General Staff, the robustly pragmatic Sir Mike Jackson, the army is probably no longer capable of war because it is simply too small, a “shadow”, he says, of what it was just a few decades ago.

Too much of it is part-time, with all that that means for quality and readiness. At the end of the Cold War the regular army was more twice its present size, and the Territorials were 80,000. Now the regulars can barely muster 80,000, and the Reserve 30,000.

How did it happen? The answer could be instructive.

John Major cut numbers drastically at the end of the Cold War – his “peace dividend”. The then CGS, Sir John Chapple, argued in vain that the army needed the dividend more than the Treasury because the future was so uncertain. Indeed, at the time the army was still liberating Kuwait. But as William Cecil, Lord Burghley, wrote, “Soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer”; and Major saw that the future was peaceful.

Blair and Brown, despite their interventionist appetites – Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan – cut troop and equipment numbers even further, justified by novel doctrines of limited scale and “fast in, fast out”, as if the enemy had no vote.

Worse still, in 2010 the Coalition government all but emasculated the infantry and armoured corps, even while fighting continued in Iraq and Afghanistan. The chancellor, George Osborne, anticipating the end of both campaigns and the coming of the elusive “summer”, demanded more chimneys be blocked up. Both Iraq and Afghanistan had been policy mistakes, ran the logic; policy mistakes could be avoided, and “winter”, if it returned at all, needn’t be too severe. Indeed, if there were a smaller army there’d be less incentive to use it.

This was nothing new. Writing of the Duke of Wellington’s struggle with the Whig government in the 1830s, the historian Sir John Fortescue concluded “Wellington’s care was less to improve the army than to save it from destruction.”

The same could be said of all army chiefs since the end of the Cold War. With no threat of invasion, no threat to internal security requiring a military response, and little need to defend overseas possessions, all that they’ve been able to do is point to residual Nato commitments, “defence engagement” (working and training with local forces in areas of instability) and peacekeeping.

But in auditing the manpower bill for this, the Treasury has always been able to find further economies because they’re good at measuring finite things. More cuts followed in 2015. Consequently there are now more postmen than regular troops.

The problem is that the MoD is always made to answer the wrong question. Or chooses to.

The Greeks had a word for it. They called their army stratos, “a body of men”, while the Romans called theirs not by what it was but by what it did: exercitus – “practice”, “training”. Both took for granted the fundamental need for a body of men that trained constantly.

When in 1906, however, Britain’s great reforming war minister, the philosopher Richard Burdon Haldane, famously asked “What is the army for?” he posed a different and existential question. Did the army, like the Royal Navy, have a specifiable purpose that not just determined its form but justified its very being? 1914 rudely interrupted the discussion.

What answer should the Integrated Review expect of the same question today? The Royal Navy is responsible for the strategic nuclear deterrent, and minds Britain’s trade routes as advocated by Sir Walter Raleigh. The Royal Air Force exists for the air defence of the United Kingdom, for which it was founded in April 1918, the air arms of the other two services having been judged not up to the task.

These functions are 24/7. But the army has no comparable purpose. Not, at least, one that justifies its existence beyond its original purpose in 1660: a few guards and garrisons. It should therefore refuse battle on terms of mere accountancy.

Trotsky explained why: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Only during the Cold War has Britain had remotely adequate defence insurance. Instead it has preferred to pay ruinous repair bills. In 1985, at the height of the Cold War, defence spending was 5.1 per cent of GDP. At present, as a Nato member the UK is committed to just two per cent of GDP.

In real terms, this will not fund armed forces capable of full-spectrum war. Can it really make sense for post-Brexit “Global Britain” to be paying an insurance policy comparable to those of Belgium and Luxembourg?

Indeed, rather than insurance, shouldn’t the Defence budget be regarded as infrastructure investment, like HS2?

Rather than trying to justify itself by specific tasks, which come and go at a whim, the army should insist on funding for its fundamental, enduring purpose: to be ready for war, war that cannot be foreseen or its character predicted – even, paradoxically, by the army itself.

That, ultimately, is what the army is for.

Virginia Crosbie: The UK is a beacon of hope across the world. We cannot let Coronavirus divide our family of nations.

13 Aug

Virginia Crosbie is the Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn.

The Coronavirus has been used, often cynically, by campaigners to further the cause of the breaking up of the United Kingdom. Each nation of the UK has had full responsibility for health policy for two decades, yet each nation has faced similar challenges. The immense purchasing power of the UK enabled the provision of PPE and ventilators when both were at peak demand on global markets; it now has the most comprehensive testing system globally and, working together, we are leading the world in developing a vaccine and therapeutic treatments for this terrible virus.

The might of the UK Treasury has protected millions of jobs and livelihoods through unprecedented packages of financial support. This has helped to further protect the health systems of each nation, and to save lives, by enabling workers to stay at home. The UK Armed Forces have provided invaluable support in combatting this cruel, yet invisible, enemy. They have built the Nightingale Hospitals, have coordinated the logistics of PPE provision and they have helped to contain local outbreaks, including one in my constituency of Ynys Môn, by supplementing local testing capacity.

Our Armed Forces are among the finest in the world. RAF fast-jet pilots trained at RAF Valley on Anglesey have recently helped to end the genocide of the Yazidi people in Northern Iraq. They protect UK airspace daily from terrorist threats and help to deter an increasingly hostile Russia. RAF Valley is the second largest employer on Anglesey, providing hundreds of high skilled jobs, just as Royal Naval ship construction supports thousands of jobs in Scotland.

With VJ Day approaching, this year marking 75 years since the end of World War II, we should never lose our pride in our shared military history and of our contribution to the vanquishing of tyranny. It was the fighting men of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland who stood alone against the tyranny of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Together with their allies, they pushed his forces back across Western Europe and ended the greatest manifestation of evil and racism that the world has witnessed.

In the Far East British soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of whom endured the horrors of Japanese imprisonment, helped to roll back the forces of Imperial Japan and to end their brutal conquest of South East Asia.

Our shared economy is the world’s sixth largest economy. Our currency, the world’s fourth most traded, protected the UK from the austerity measures imposed on other countries by the ECB, including on the Republic of Ireland. It gave us the freedom needed to become Europe’s fastest growing economy and fastest jobs creator by 2019. The UK has among the lowest rates of youth unemployment across the G7.

Crucially, the UK has the most ambitious green industrial policies in the world and is the first major economy to enshrine a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in legislation. A green recovery is crucial to the rebuilding from the devastation of this pandemic and, working together, the nations of the UK can lead the world in developing the technologies crucial to cutting emissions globally.

The UK is a major power with considerable economic, cultural, military and political influence worldwide. It has a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. If the Union is fragmented, each constituent nation would lose this influence. We have a long-shared history and have a very integrated society. Across the globe the UK is viewed as a beacon of hope, compassion and prosperity. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are equal and cherished partners within a hugely successful political union. Breaking up this family of nations would be a tragedy. It is a family we must fight to protect.