Mark Francois: Now the Government must tear up the Integrated Review, start again – and boost the army

28 Feb

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former Armed Forces Minister.

As the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine only began five days ago, it may be too early to draw long-term conclusions, not least as we do not yet know how this war – for that is what is now palpably is – will play out. Nevertheless, there are at least four things which are already very clear.

First, this is a gigantic wake-up call for NATO, and indeed the free world more generally. I have written on this site before about how the reluctance of European NATO nations to meet the NATO target to spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence was making the world a more dangerous place. Moreover, NATO’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer can only have encouraged adventurism in Russia.

We must also appreciate who we are dealing with. Vladimir Putin and most of his closest associates were senior officers in the Soviet KGB. These are utterly ruthless men, who are unlikely to be deterred by economic measures alone.

Their ultimate benchmark will be hard power, both nuclear and conventional, rather than sanctions, which they will have already priced in. The Russian psyche despises weakness, and so we need to react accordingly.

It is encouraging to note that NATO is beginning to close ranks and agree on sanctions and military aid to Ukraine. But we need to enhance our efforts and quickly, if we are to persuade Putin to abandon any idea, however fanciful, of attacking the Baltic States or Poland. Our response must includes not just deploying more troops on NATO’s borders. but also increasing our operational readiness to rapidly respond to any incursion.

Second, within the U.K itself, we need to “Review the Review.” The conventional war on the Central European landmass unfolding before us, is a massive international event – comparable in security terms to a 9/11.

It is likely to be a game-changer, which means that the much-vaunted Integrated Review of Foreign, Defence and Security Policy published only last year, has already been overtaken by events.

The Review, which was intellectually incoherent from the outset, self-evidently failed to anticipate the near-term likelihood of massive Russian aggression.

Its defence aspects were particularly flawed, since it envisaged further deep cuts in U.K. conventional forces, including reducing the British Army by a further 10,000 regular soldiers down to just over 73,000, its smallest size since the post-Napoleonic age.

Worse still, it purported to bolster our Armed Forces in five to ten years time by taking excessive risks in the next few years to finance the later improvements. Under the Review, critical capabilities – such as our already inadequate force of frigates, airborne early warning aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles – were to be retired or sold off, years before their replacements were due to come into service.

In particular, the British Army’s armoured and infantry forces were to be pared back, so that we could field a fully-fledged “war fighting division” – around a decade from now. What good is all that to us this spring?

The intellectual fig-leaf for this self-imposed disarmament, which mercifully has not yet been fully implemented, is called the “Integrated Operating Concept” (IOC). When you strip away all the Whitehall techno-babble, the essence of the IOC is that we can get away with fewer tanks, armoured vehicles etc, because the remainder will be better able to communicate and interact, thus producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The fundamental problem with this approach, as Captain Blackadder famously said to Private Baldrick about a previous military plan in the last ever episode of Blackadder, “is that it’s Bollocks.”

To begin with, the IOC largely relies on equipment which either doesn’t work (such as “Ajax”, the £4 billion light-tank, which has been delayed for years because it injures its own crew) or kit that doesn’t even exist yet, like “LeTacsis/Morpheus” (an all-singing all-dancing communications system, which hasn’t even been designed yet, is years away from service and is presently bogged down in endless disputes with contractors).

Moreover, the emphasis on high-tech solutions to everything ignores the brutal truth that, for all it’s technology, NATO was eventually run out of Afghanistan by what some commentators have described as “a bunch of country boys”, with light weapons and not an aircraft, satellite or submarine between them.

For the Russians, such theorising is unlikely to deter the 8th St. Petersburg Girl Guide Troop (Motorised), let alone the First Guards Tank Army. As Stalin famously said: “quantity has a quality all of its own.” The whole IOC, which is at the heart of the Review, and which provides the rationale for reducing our Army even further, is fatally flawed. We will likely need to go back to the drawing board and think again.

Third, it seems likely that U.K. defence spending will have to increase from its current level of around 2.3 per cent of GDP. The House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC), on which I have now served for five years, has consistently called for U.K. defence spending to reach at least three per cent of GDP, even before Russia invaded the Crimea and deployed a chemical weapon on U.K. soil in Salisbury in 2014.

Indeed, during the Cold War, it stood at around five per cent but was then slashed, by Government’s of both colours, as they extracted a “peace dividend” after the Wall came down. Well, following a major break-in, it looks as if our “insurance premium” is about to go up again, lest we allow the highly aggressive burglar to run riot.

However, as Conservatives, we instinctively believe that public spending is not just about how much you spend but, crucially, how effectively you spend it. The all-party Public Accounts Committee declared just a few months ago that MoD’s defence procurement system is “broken.”

Of the Department’s 36 largest procurement programmes, which were independently audited by the Government’s Infrastructure Projects Authority, not a single one -was on track to enter service both on time and on cost.

The Blob (which in this case takes the form of Defence Equipment and Support, or DE&S) is hopelessly inefficient. The Russian invasion of Ukraine should have finally persuaded us that we need radical reform in this procurement area, which employs over 10,000 people to do what the Israelis do better with barely 2,500.

Fourth, we need to materially increase our operational readiness. During the Cold War, our Armed Forces were held at high states of readiness, ready to respond to any incursion across the then inner-German border within a matter of hours.

Today, with a few exceptions (such as the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert aircraft to intercept Russian bombers) our forces are held at much longer notice, especially with regard to a general conflagration.

As just one example, of our six, £1 billion each, Type 45 destroyers, only one was operationally available last July, due to a persistent problem with their propulsion systems, which the MoD is not scheduled to fully rectify until 2028.

Given what has just happened in Ukraine, we should now look critically at our readiness states across the board, and encourage our allies to do likewise. We should fix the kit that doesn’t work as a matter of urgency. As such, we should be prepared to issue a number of Urgent Operational Requirements ( MoD speak for drop all the bureaucracy and get the job done as soon as possible) to bring our kit up to scratch, of which the Type 45s could be but the first example.

In summary, we are now living in a different world from a week ago. Russia has invaded a peaceful, democratic, sovereign state. All those yards of newsprint and tweets from commentators who said this could never happen have been shown to be utterly wrong.

If you believe, as I do, that the first job of our Armed Forces is actually to deter war, by showing any potential aggressor that we are both morally willing and technically ready to defend ourselves and defeat them, then we need to change our whole mindset in Whitehall and indeed in Parliament too – and we had best do it quickly. The Romans had a powerful saying: “Si vis pacem parra bellum” – he who desires peace should prepare for war.

So should we. Not next year – or in ten years time – but now.

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.

Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 4) The Armed Forces Bill

20 Jun

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

2) The Armed Forces Bill

What it is

In a nutshell, this Bill ensures that the United Kingdom has armed forces.  Why is legislation required for that purpose?  Because of Parliament’s ancient fear of the Crown having a standing army. (So it is that we have a Royal Navy and Air Force but the British Army.)

As James Sunderland explained recently on this site, “the Armed Forces Bill is a procedural anomaly harking back to the 1689 Bill of Rights. Every five years, the Bill must pass through Parliament, thereby renewing the Armed Forces Act in statute and enabling the maintenance of standing forces in peacetime”.

Responsible department

The Ministry of Defence.  Second Reading debate took place in the Commons on February 8.   Secretaries of State usually take the Second Reading of Bills, but Johnny Mercer, then Minister for Defence People and Veterans, took this one.

He has since resigned (over the treatment of Northern Ireland veterans, which is unconnected to this Bill) so his replacement, Leo Doherty, is likely to step into the breach when amendments are considered.

Carried over or a new Bill?

A new Bill – but it has had pre-legislative scrutiny through a unique form of joint committtee, chaired by Sunderland.  Read its report.

Expected back when?

The committee stage of the Bill is timetabled for this coming Wednesday, June 23.

Arguments for

The case for the Bill is a slam dunk – assuming that you believe that the United Kingdom needs armed forces.  It also updates elements of the armed forces disciplinary system.

Furthermore, it “enshrines the Armed Forces Covenant in law and help prevent service personnel and veterans being disadvantaged when accessing services like healthcare, education and housing and improve the Service Justice System for our personnel wherever they are operating”.

Arguments against

No-one has emerged in the Commons to argue that we don’t need armed forces, but there are lots of questions about the detail of the Bill – especially the application of the Covenant.

For example, as the Joint Committee report puts it, “concerns were…raised that the Bill applies to local government and some public bodies, but not to central nor devolved governments, and that there is a lack of alternative routes of redress for veterans”.  The committee also has concerns about the proposed workings of the Service Justice System.

Politics

Labour’s unsurprising position has been to support the Bill in principle, arguing that it emerges from its own Armed Forces Act of 2006 – while backing the Joint Committee’s concerns and adding some of its own.  For example, Kevan Jones, the former Defence Minister, claimed during Second Reading that Labour suggested protections for a 2009 forerunner of the Covenant that are not contained in the Bill.

While the Joint Committee necessarily maintained some differences with the Government, Sunderland rowed in behind Ministers over Labour’s criticisms, arguing that “my view therefore is that, far from being overly prescriptive in primary legislation, it may be better to be less prescriptive”.

Controversy rating: 2/10

As John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said at Second Reading, the Bill is bipartisan – and it is difficult to get controversy going about a measure necessary for the continuance of our Armed Forces.  But honouring the Covenant will be a challenge, given the range and complexity of issues affecting veterans, that may require further legislative changes before the Bill next comes up for renewal.

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.

Profile: Penny Mordaunt. Ambitious, socially liberal, sacked, then rehabilitated, restive, military-flavoured – and on manoeuvres.

25 May

Last Tuesday, Penny Mordaunt triumphed at the Dispatch Box. In a speech lasting three minutes and 46 seconds she demolished Angela Rayner.

According to Henry Deedes, sketching the contest for The Daily Mail,

“You’d struggle to find a more elegant piece of skewering among Marseille’s finest kebabists.”

Rayner claimed that ministers “act like the rules are for other people”, and have repeatedly broken those rules. Mordaunt replied with icy self-possession:

“The right hon. Lady has made particular accusations today about colleagues, and I want to make a final point, Mr Speaker. If you were to take every single MP she has made an allegation about this afternoon, if you were to look at all the political donations they have received since the pandemic started, since January 2020, and if you were to add them all up and then double them—no, quadruple them—you would just about match what the right hon. Lady herself has received in the same time period. She should thank her lucky stars that we do not play the same games that she does.”

This sounded just the kind of point Michael Gove might have made had he been defending the Government, and some good judges even saw “Michael’s hand” in these words.

Rayner, who now rejoices in the title of shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had supposed she would be taking on Gove, who is in many ways the most formidable debater on the Government benches.

It was instead Mordaunt, as Paymaster General, outside the Cabinet but a Cabinet Office minister, who was given the chance to remind Conservatives that she too is a considerable Commons performer, and can be relied on to carry the fight to the Opposition.

As ConHome noted in an earlier profile of her, published in March 2016 and predicated on the possibility that she might be a future leader:

“Mordaunt has a go-for-it mentality, which emerges at quite frequent intervals in her career, and is accompanied by a gift for publicity.”

She followed up her Commons performance with a piece in last week’s Daily Telegraph in which she mounted a bold defence of the Government’s record during the pandemic:

“I am proud to be part of this Government and to serve under such a determined, resilient, and popular leader…

“We…prioritised community assets over individual freedoms. The Government’s decision to protect the NHS and save lives was reminiscent of Churchill’s response to the U boat threat. He instinctively recognised that it was the one thing that could really hurt us.

“This is where the Prime Minister deserves personal praise. As someone who is an instinctive libertarian, he made the most difficult decision of his career.”

Her comparison with the Second World War was marred by a horrible blunder, when she described the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 as “the first and last victory of the war that was fought chiefly with British leadership”.

It fell to the present Viscount Slim to remind her that in Burma “the largest British-led campaign of the Second World War” began in 1942, and involved at its height a mainly Commonwealth army of 1.25 million personnel, which nicknamed itself the Forgotten Army, and which, unfortunately, was forgotten by Mordaunt, a former Defence Secretary.

What do Boris Johnson, Bill Gates, Elton John, Tony Blair, Ruth Davidson, Richard Curtis, Richard Branson, Kim Leadbeater, Michael Dobbs, Malcolm Rifkind, Peter Hennessy and Anthony Seldon have in common?

All of them have provided puffs for Mordaunt’s new book, Greater: Britain After The Storm, written with Chris Lewis and published last Thursday.

Blair described it as “uplifting and highly readable”, Branson said it is “utterly uplifting and inspiring”, Curtis settled for “really readable and funny”, while Johnson’s verdict is “loving, invigorating and delivered with characteristic wit”.

One may doubt whether these critics found either the time or the inclination to read the whole book, for like almost all such manifestos, it is sprinkled with ludicrous assertions.

On an early page, the American Ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, is said to have given a speech which is “shorter than the Gettysburg Address and just as powerful”.

In a later chapter, Parliament is dismissed as “about as out of touch with a modern democracy as it’s possible to be”, and some shoot-from-the-hip proposals are made for reform of the Lords and Commons, which earned the book a short write-up in The Sunday Times.

But the point of such a book is not to show literary merit. It is generally written to demonstrate the fitness of the author to be leader, a role reckoned to require energy, vision and grim determination, all of which are needed to get a book finished.

Anyone who would like to see Mordaunt display those qualities in shorter form is referred to her piece in September 2018 for ConHome entitled The twelve new rules of politics, and also to her piece in May 2019 entitled It’s time for servant leadership that will listen to the people.

Mordaunt supported Leave in the EU Referendum of 2016, but saw the need afterwards to bring the two sides together.

Theresa May made her Minister of State for Disabilities from 2016-17, put her in the Cabinet as International Development Secretary from 2017-19, and promoted her to the role of Defence Secretary from May to July 2019.

This was a highly suitable post for her, given her service background, outlined in the earlier ConHome profile. Even as Defence Secretary she continued as a Royal Navy reservist, a combination of roles which the Navy found, in the words of one of her colleagues, “mildly uncomfortable”, for she was both extremely senior and rather junior.

By this stage, May’s prime ministership was tottering to its close, and having established that despite her ConHome pieces, she did not have enough support to run for the leadership herself, Mordaunt decided to back Jeremy Hunt, and became a member of his campaign team.

Had Hunt won, she could have expected a senior Cabinet post. But although he got to the final two, he lost heavily to Johnson, who proceeded to sack Mordaunt.

She might have gone off to chair a select committee, the role taken by Hunt himself.  But instead she set to work on her book, and in the reshuffle of February 2020 accepted the post of Paymaster General, well below her previous level.

“I’m sure that Boris has told her if she’s helpful she can come back [into the Cabinet],” a former minister told ConHome. “But Boris tells everyone that.”

“I’m a big fan,” another former minister said. “I would have thought she would be an absolutely prime candidate for promotion to the Cabinet. There’s an awful lot of talent in the party, but I’d put her top of my list.”

“She’s very determined, very ambitious and generally very competitive,” a third ex-minister said, contemplating her chances of one day becoming leader. “But I don’t know how far she has been able to ingratiate herself with the 2019 intake.”

Because of the pandemic, nobody has been able to woo that intake much.

Mordaunt has a headstrong quality, and has on a considerable number of issues defied the Government line. Last summer she said there were many “inconsistencies” in Dominic Cummings’ account of his visit to Barnard Castle, and accused him of undermining the Government’s key public health messages.

She is a resolute social liberal, and in March told the Commons that ‘transmen are men and transwomen are women’, a position far in advance of Government policy.

At about the same time, she defied the Government line by meeting the Muslim Council of Britain.

So she could already have been fired for insubordination. Perhaps this accounts for the more loyal tone she has recently struck, though that could also proceed from the realisation that Johnson is on course to emerge strengthened from the pandemic, which means the best she can hope for is to get back into the Cabinet, which in turn will only happen if she convinces the Prime Minister that she is loyal.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s sad death is a sign that our Elizabethan era is coming to an end

9 Apr

In the summer of 1939, King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth and their children, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, went on a cruise along the south coast of England in the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert. They anchored off the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and here Princess Elizabeth met, for the first time, Prince Philip of Greece.

He had recently enrolled as a naval cadet, and was an impoverished member of the Greek royal family, which was of Danish descent, though like most European royalty he was also descended from Queen Victoria.

Prince Philip was 18, and Princess Elizabeth, who was only 13, was impressed, according to Crawfie, her governess, by how high he could jump.

When the Royal Yacht sailed away, Prince Philip rowed after it long after all the other small boats had obeyed the signal to turn back.

During the Second World War he saw service in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and Pacific, was mentioned in dispatches, and saw Princess Elizabeth while he was on leave.

The King said it was too soon to think of marriage, but at Balmoral, in the summer of 1946, Prince Philip proposed to her and she accepted him. Their engagement was not announced until after the royal tour of South Africa during which, on 21st April 1947, Princess Elizabeth marked her 21st birthday by dedicating “my whole life whether it be long or short” to the service of her people “and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.

For a few years after their marriage in November 1947, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he became on that day, was able to continue with his career as an able, energetic and ambitious naval officer who was likely to rise, on merit, to the top of the service.

But in February 1952, in Kenya at the start of a tour which was supposed to take them to Australia and New Zealand, the couple received the news of the death, at the age of only 56, of George VI.

Prince Philip had to give up his naval career: for him a severe sacrifice. From now on, he had no choice but to play the supporting role.

He betrayed no hint of self-pity, but got on with it, through rough weather as through dead calms, alleviating boredom by making jokes.

The sadness felt at his death is more profound than many people had expected. That sorrow is a measure of the affection and respect in which he was held.

It is also a recognition of how bereft the Queen will feel without him, and a sign of the melancholy realisation that our Elizabethan age, which is all those of us below the age of 80 can remember, cannot in the nature of things have very many years yet to run.

Andrew Gimson is the author of “Gimson’s Kings & Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs since 1066”

Nicolas Clark: The Government’s defence plans are based on a stark choice – ‘go large’ or ‘go smart’

26 Mar

Nicolas Clark works in the defence sector and is the co-founder of Conservative Friends of the Armed Forces. 

As many start to decipher the Defence Command Paper (‘Defence in a Competitive Age’) it will likely leave them conflicted: with our proud military history do we not need numbers to be considered serious, and to support our allies? Are our elite forces really enough to achieve what we need?

At the heart of the matter is this question: why does our military exist?

For the modern day the primary answer must be to keep both our society and interests, as well as those of our allies, safe Safe from whom? Those who would do us harm of course.

But who are ‘they’, what are they looking to do to us, and how can we best prepare ourselves to address their threats?

Firstly, we have to accept a reality, unpopular for many; Britannia does not rule the waves. Yes, we are good at what we do, better than most, and we are an important ally, but gone are the days where we are likely to take on a peer enemy head to head, alone. It is not impossible that we could do this, but it is more probable that we would enter a conflict alongside any number of our allies.

Secondly, the nature of conflict has changed. A decade ago, talk of cyber hackers, hyper-sonic missiles, directed energy weapons, micro-drones and loyal wingmen (unmanned fighters linked to a manned fighter) were things of science fiction. To put this in context, about a decade ago the army still wore that green camouflage (DPM), Osama bin-Laden and Muammar Gaddafi had been killed, and David Cameron had become Prime Minister in the Coalition Government.

Today the science fiction is becoming science reality and the focus is on hybrid threats (propaganda, deception and sabotage) and actions being carried out within the ‘grey zone’ that exists between war and peace.

Finally, we have to accept the financial situation. We don’t’ have the financial means to maintain a large force, or the collective will to prioritise the military over education, welfare or healthcare. Continuing to spend two per cent of GDP on defence in line with NATO requirements is just about acceptable to many, but does not carry a public majority. As the British Empire grew, its finances could support a large military, and soldiers whether from home or abroad were cheap. I need not elaborate on how this has changed but we must recognise that it is now in Asia that the growth in military stature is taking place.

Faced with this, should we really be going down to an army smaller in size than that of the 1700s? Well size does matter, but it matters if you want to hold large areas of ground. If you accept that we do not want to do this in the future by conventional means, or alone, then you should also be able to recognise that if you cannot ‘go large’, you should ‘go smart’. I would argue that ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’ is a smart solution.

The threat of terrorism still exists of course, particularly where it is sponsored by foreign states; think not just Iran but also Russian activities in Salisbury and North Korean assassinations. Whilst we and our allies became embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan our adversaries were watching. They noted our mistakes, our conventional military solutions, and they planned.

Not necessarily in new ways – often they went back to basics; Russia to techniques of disinformation and propaganda associated with the World and Cold Wars, and China to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and the Peoples’ Liberation Army’s 1999 text ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. To see these strategies in practice one only need look at Russian activity in Eastern Ukraine and Chinese influence in Australia. It is not a coincidence that the Nordic and Baltic countries remained focused, throughout the ‘War on Terror’ years, on the threat that sits on their doorstep, Russia.

Consequently, the technologies and approaches of Sweden and Norway are particularly designed to counter Russian aggression and why they are now particularly strategic allies for the UK. We do need to learn from these examples, and fast.

Without descending into War Studies; Sun Tzu talked about choosing the right strategy for the right conditions but not fighting unless you had to, and, if you had to, fighting smart. Indeed, he said that the superior way of winning a war was by not fighting, i.e. defeating your opponent before it came to battle. Finally, of relevance, is how you should fight the fight that fits the weapons you have, and consequently make the weapons that fit the fight you intend to have.

So, a smaller, highly-trained and capable force, that can deliver a surgical physical strike, that is integrated with cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities, is a logical direction to take. When married with a maritime force, long-range accurate strike capabilities, and advanced aviation and space asset, the expeditionary effect of your force becomes incredibly potent, arguably multiplied to be much greater than the sum of its parts.

What does this all mean? Well in scenarios where you quickly wanted to support your Norwegian or Australian allies you could get there quickly from air or sea and deploy your air (Paras), land (Rangers) or sea (Commandos), with a variety of physical and invisible technologies, that would deliver the swift Bruce Lee ‘chop’ that helps to stop an aggressor in its tracks. The slow, but powerful, Mike Tyson alternative (the British Army of old) might well turn up to the fight too late and have found its gloves stolen on route.

Upsetting the apple cart at this juncture is probably the right thing to be doing. Cap badges and traditions have formed part of a proud military heritage but we need to rethink the core purpose of our military for the future. It is right to play to our historic strengths but not to be weighed down by them, and to look instead to how we can repurpose for our future challenges.

Investing in technology is key, and has a symbiotic benefit between economy and capability. Supporting allies overseas through engagement projects influence, and working with our partners builds stronger allegiances that we know others seek to weaken.

Of course, we can’t enter a cold war with those that threaten our way of life, but with whom we also trade, on a whim. However, we can prepare to deal with them effectively if it is required of us, and we can insulate ourselves from their malign intentions. What remains to be seen is whether the Ministry of Defence, in the implementation of this paper, can overcome the hurdle of the historic “general ineptitude” with which it was branded by the Defence Select Committee and see this laudable ambition through to fruition.

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.

James Sunderland: The Integrated Review. To project power in the world, we musn’t skimp on support arms and force protection

15 Mar

James Sunderland is MP for Bracknell.

You’ve got to take your hat off to the Secretary of State for Defence. With speculation rising to fever pitch ahead of the imminent publication of the Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, hardly a day goes by without yet another story appearing in the national press about what is being cut from the Royal Navy, Army or Royal Air Force.

As a man who has nobly carried on his shoulders this most ambitious and far-reaching of all defence reviews for years, you can hardly blame Ben Wallace for keeping tight-lipped. Having an extra £16.5 billion to spend on shiny new toys is perhaps the stuff of dreams, but predicting the future is a tricky business, and our enemies are unlikely to fight as we might expect. The element of surprise is everything.

In addition, not only must the Ministry of Defence fulfil its clear imperative to keep our national secrets safe, but it is surely the most susceptible of all Government departments to the friendly persuasion of so many armchair experts.

With our retired admirals, generals and air marshals, in particular, refusing to bow out gracefully, journalists poised to deploy their pens and Opposition MPs lining up to fire their opening salvo, is it any wonder that copious quantities of body armour are being issued to officials along the corridors of Whitehall?

Sadly, the excellent Defence Secretary may himself need to be first in the queue – for no other reason than he is the fall guy who will ultimately have to take responsibility for what he must now glean from his crystal ball. And to be frank, it is a near-impossible task.

At the heart of the review is the need for the UK to properly define its future role in the world. In true ‘chicken and egg’ fashion, my view is that policy follows strategy, so it stands to reason that our global strategy will pave the way for the next generation of foreign and defence policy aims that will see us to 2030 and beyond.

But, as always, the reality is somewhat more complex. For as long as the UK continues to see itself as a global player, which of course we must, our ongoing and rightful commitment to a seat on the altar of the United Nations Security Council comes with responsibilities that cannot be sacrificed, not least our independent nuclear deterrent. So the review must not just tackle how we allocate the recent increase in defence spending to beyond 2.2 per cent of GDP, but where, when, and why.

For those in any doubt, defence spending is a necessary evil to keep us safe. Today, we face a multitude of threats in multiple domains, some are known to us and some are not, and we are living in an era of constant competition and persistent engagement with our foes. Sub-threshold conflict pervades all around us and it’s a dichotomy perhaps that, in this era of relative peace and prosperity, our future has also rarely been less certain or predictable, not least in the new battlegrounds of space and cyber.

So the UK needs an insurance policy and, thanks to the financial commitment of this Government, the Ministry of Defence finds itself in the rare position of being able to think long-term with its capability planning. This provides certainty, security, clarity, and the confidence to meet our ambition through longer term strategy.

But, as the perceived requirement for precision, stealth, remote and indirect weapons at distance becomes more acute, the bills that come with this are also increasing. Whilst we do still need to put boots on the ground, sailors in our ships and pilots in the air, it may just be that there are better ways of prosecuting military force in a way that does not decisively commit our forces to unacceptable physical risks.

My suspicion is that buying out this danger is one of the core challenges of the digital age, and there may not be a better time to bury bad news. And as Wallace knows, not least as a former Army officer, honouring every single sacred cow is the stuff of fantasy, and there may be blood on the carpet.

It is not for me to wax lyrical about what should be in the Integrated Review, but it seems obvious that the proverbial golf bag of military capability will need to carry a greater range of more expensive clubs. For a start, the golden thread that links hard power with soft power through global free trade, freedom of movement, cooperation and diplomacy, all under-pinned by military force, is persuasive.

Indeed, protecting our trade routes, oil reserves, sovereignty, exports and national interests will continue to require the availability of hard power at unlimited liability and at immediate readiness. If post-EU Britain is to maintain its global presence alongside increasingly ambitious competitors, perhaps even East of Suez, it is inevitable that truly expeditionary capabilities will be needed.

We must therefore enhance our ability to project force by being able to call upon the additional lift needed. So, our naval support vessels, ferries and long-range transport aircraft such as C17 and A400M will need to be augmented alongside our fighting platforms. And if our core assumption is still to put a divisional sized force anywhere in the world, with all of the support arms and force protection that comes with it, then going to the market for a commercial lift solution or contracted logistics cannot be the default setting. We skimp here at our peril.

Beyond this, the Navy will need more ships. As quantity does have a quantity of its own, I would like to see a larger surface fleet, perhaps with less capable platforms, to protect our carriers and enhance our global presence. And if we are to project power from land, sea and air, we will need to invest in our operating bases, not just at our traditional sites in Cyprus, Gibraltar and Ascension, but also at Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Singapore and beyond.

Coalitions will be a force-multiplier so existing defence relations with NATO, the UN, Five Eyes community, Five Powers Defence Agreement, EU and through bilateral deals with allies such as France should be reinforced. Greater integration between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, plus our intelligence services, GCHQ, cyber centres, Space Command and our diplomatic network will be essential too. Better aligning our foreign policy with defence policy in the light of the reduction from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP will also be pivotal and we must not of course forget the need for a new industrial strategy to better support our nascent defence manufacturing industry. So, let’s again build British, buy British and sell British.

Irrespective of the conjecture that has recently appeared in the national press, I can state with certainty that two things will occur. The first is that our best brains have been working on the review for months, and that the final publication will be worth the wait. And the second is that it will be the most brilliant, comprehensive, and incisive analysis of modern defence and foreign policy requirements anywhere in the world for years.

As any armchair enthusiast knows, the first rule of politics is that there is no right and wrong, only degrees of judgement. So irrespective of how unpalatable the review may be to some, there is no doubt that the Secretary of State will be earning his money by standing up to be counted at the Despatch Box. And it may even be that body-armour will not be required.

David Gauke: Is Britain really set to become a low tax, less regulated, free trading, buccaneering country?

13 Mar

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Conversations about tax policy can take unexpected turns. It was during one such conversation in the late 2000s – I was the shadow tax minister at the time and developing our plans for corporation tax – that a senior tax lawyer at a city firm recommended a series of books on naval battles.

Peter Padfield’s Maritime Trilogy is, in truth, somewhat broader than that. Padfield alternates accounts of the most important maritime confrontations since the Spanish Armada with a broader account of the social, economic and constitutional development of the great powers.

His central argument is that there is a distinction to be drawn between maritime nations – with linked strengths of sea-fighting, trade, financial innovation and constitutional constraints – and land-based empires. The later relied on closed domestic markets, rigid hierarchies and centralisation, the former distinguished by liberty, flexibility and enterprise.

It is an analysis that many British Conservatives would share and, the argument goes, makes the UK well suited to the era of globalisation. We are historically and culturally accustomed to trade and with that comes a recognition that trading partners have other options. Our prosperity is dependent upon those partners wishing to continue to trade with us. Political stability; the rule of law; paying our debts; limited government; competitive and predictable taxes – all qualities that are necessary to succeed as a maritime nation and in the era of globalisation.

It was in this spirit that the Prime Minister’s first big speech following our departure from the EU was at the Old Naval College in Greenwich where – in extolling the virtues of free trade – he talked of recapturing “the spirit of those seafaring ancestors immortalised above us whose exploits brought not just riches but something even more important than that – and that was a global perspective”.

So how are we doing? Are we on course to be the open, outward-looking nation of which the Prime Minister spoke? Are we becoming a more flexible, enterprising, maritime nation?

My last column assumed that corporation tax rates would increase and argued that this would be a mistake. When I heard Government ministers defend the rise by saying that our corporation tax rates remained the lowest in the G7, I was reminded of my conversation with the tax lawyer.

The lawyer’s argument (which I found persuasive) was that we became economically successful from the 1690s onwards because our model was more like that of a small country dependent upon foreigners choosing to trade with and invest in us, taking inspiration from the Dutch rather than the French. Our modern tax system should seek to emulate this, he argued, encouraging international businesses to locate activities and investment in the UK. Our rates may be lower than other G7 economies but, if we see ourselves as nimble and competitive, our ambitions should be greater than that. A better corporate tax regime than France is not a proud boast.

How about freeports? The name could not be more evocative of our trading and maritime traditions. But the evidence suggests that they will achieve little other than displacing activity from one part of the country to another. And if we were really ambitious about a deregulated, low tax, low customs solution to our economic woes, why give these advantages to some places, why not everyone?

The emphasis on freeports reveals an approach to the levelling up agenda that I worry is more about creating grateful localities in exchange for pots of spending rather than a clear sighted vision for improving productivity. The suspicion must be that the preference for ad hoc ministerial decisions over a more defined industrial strategy will lead to a less economically rigorous approach. The suspicion will linger that party political considerations will be to the fore.

There is one surprising, if qualified, bright spot. We are becoming more open to talent. It was already the case that the requirements to get a work visa were much less restrictive than previously, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the skills visas is worthwhile. The qualification, of course, is that it is still much more bureaucratic for EU citizens to work here than it was – which brings me to Brexit.

Our history as a maritime nation is one often identified by supporters of Brexit – like the Prime Minister in his Greenwich speech. Even the word ‘Brexiteer’ evokes the naval escapades of buccaneers (although the Oxford English Dictionary also defines ‘buccaneer’ as ‘a person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way’). Liz Truss tops the ConHome Ministerial popularity charts largely on the basis of her energetic advocacy of Global Britain and for free trade as a benefit of Brexit.

The reality is that Brexit involves the erection of trade barriers with our largest market, as January’s appalling trade numbers suggest (although, to be fair, a clearer picture will only emerge over time). Given the Prime Minister was willing to agree to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it even involves trade barriers within the UK.

While good progress has been made by the Department of International Trade in completing free trade agreements with third countries, these have primarily rolled over existing agreements that we had as members of the EU. There was a flurry of excitement last week when the US dropped punitive tariffs on UK products that were in place because of a longstanding dispute with the EU over Airbus and Boeing. Brexit supporters rushed to declare it a triumph due to our new status, the Trade Secretary wrote a self-congratulatory piece in The Daily Telegraph. A day later, the US announced that it was dropping the punitive tariffs against the EU, too. The search for a trade benefit from Brexit continues.

What about regulatory flexibility? It is nearly five years since we voted to leave the EU, but there are still no bold plans to regulate in a different way. Plans to review workers’ rights have been dropped on the basis that this would be politically unpopular.

If the hard Brexit delivered by the Government has made trade with the EU much harder, the combative manner of our dealing with the EU has not only reduced trust but even undermined a key attribute for a trading nation – the rule of law. Having threatened to breach international law for three months over the autumn, Lord Frost has now decided to extend the grace period before internal checks come into place – unilaterally changing the terms of our agreement with the EU. A second breach of an international treaty only recently agreed begins to look like a habit. It does nothing for our reputation for trustworthiness.

The attributes of an outward-looking, open, trading nation are ones to which we should aspire. But in terms of our openness to trade, competitiveness on tax and adherence to the rule of law we are going backwards. In terms of the State telling businesses what they should do and where they should do it, we are becoming more centralised and more arbitrary.

For years, many in the UK have characterised the EU as centralised, interventionist, uncompetitive and protectionist. It would be a sad irony if our departure from it makes us more like the type of inward-looking, land-based power that we once used to disparage.