Westinster Catch-up

In February the Defence Secretary was forced to admit that the UK was going ahead with a new warhead for the Trident replacement submarines which will be co-produced with the United States.  However the Secretary of State only admitted this after MPs heard it via a Pentagon statement instead of hearing it from our government. 

 A public meeting of the International Relations and Defence Committee sat in the Lords on the 26th February.  The objective was to follow up on the inquiry into rising nuclear risk, disarmament and the Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of the conference scheduled in the spring.  Senior officials from the Civil Service, giving evidence to the committee were: Samantha Job, Director, Defence and International Security, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Sarah Price, Head, Counter-Proliferation and Arms Control Centre (CPACC), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; James Franklin, Head of Nuclear Policy, Ministry of Defence

 You can watch the full exchange here.  

The Chair of the committee asked the MOD representative to comment on the sequence of events which led to the information issued by the Pentagon about the UK governments plans to renew the Trident warheads before Parliament was aware.  As she said “the cat had been let out of the bag”.

 James Franklin said it was important to look at the context of what the US announcement was in that process and the US hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to replace the warhead.  There is a plan in place and this was them approaching congress to do that.  He went on to say “I don’t think there has been any miss-engagement with Parliament in that process.”

Lord Reid asked to panel what developments there are in both the New START and the Open Skies Agreement. In particular whether the US was considering withdrawing from the Open Skies and what the UK’s current position is on the Treaty.

On the question Open Skies, Sarah Price said the government were fully supportive of the Treaty; this is an active area of engagement and that the “process of consideration for US withdrawal from the Treaty is still on-going”. In  regards to the New START, Samantha Job explained that the UK government was regularly talking to the US Administration, however the “New START doesn’t cover everything and doesn’t cover some of the missiles and technologies that Russia has announced it’s going to have.”

Budget

There was much discouragement of the government announcing it is to spend more than £900 million on nuclear fusion, space and electric vehicles as a “raft of other green measures”.  There was little in the budget in support of the environment and nothing around scraping the wasted £billions needed to replace the obsolete Trident.  Instead the Chancellor promised to  “support the most energy-intensive industries to transition to net zero” by extending the climate change agreement scheme for a further two years and has pledging to introduce a new plastic packaging tax from April 2022.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

The Guardian is reporting that a Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed that the Comprehensive Spending Review has been postponed “so that government remains focused on responding to the public health and economic emergency. Further details of when the comprehensive spending review will be held will be set out in due course.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated the four areas the government will be working on are: the Euro-Atlantic alliance, great power competition, global issues and homeland security. 

Questions

At Defence questions in March, Caroline Lucas asked the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps he plans to take to ensure that close work with the US on new warhead development is compatible with UK obligations under article 1 of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to transfer nuclear warheads or other nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly; and what recent estimate he has made of the (a) cost and (b) completion date of the proposed Trident warhead replacement programme.

The answer came from Jeremy Quin: “As we have previously stated, the replacement warhead is not required until at least the late 2030s, and the programme to deliver it will be subject to the Government’s major programme approvals and oversight. We are withholding specific information about cost and in-service dates for the purposes of safeguarding national security.”

Labour MP Tan Dhesi asked with reference to the Government’s announcement entitled, £500 million for Faslane, published in August 2015, what the objectives are of that upgrade; and what progress he has made on completing that upgrade.

 Again, Jeremy Quin responded:

The Clyde Infrastructure Programme was established in 2015 to coordinate the delivery of multiple infrastructure projects to build new or upgrade/update existing facilities within the geographically constrained sites in Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, while ensuring the Naval Base could concurrently support Continuous at Sea Deterrence.

There are currently fourteen active projects within the programme. The total programme value is estimated at £1.6 billion over fifteen years.

At Foreign Office Questions on the 3 March, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry asked what recent discussions the Foreign Secretary had had with his counterpart in the United States administration on the potential for a new nuclear deal with Iran.

James Cleverly responded saying, “We remain in close contact with the US at a number of levels. The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump on the 20 February and the Foreign Secretary met with Secretary Pompeo in London at the end of January, covering a range of bilateral issues.” He went on to say that “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains the best means available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  We remain committed to the deal as our E3 leaders reaffirmed unequivocally on the 12 January…”

MoD responds to CND

Foreign Office questions

On Thursday we saw the anticipated cabinet reshuffle in the government with no changes to the Secretary of state for Defence Ben Wallace or the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

Earlier this week Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, asked the Foreign Secretary, Dominic what assessment he has made of the potential for opening negotiations with Iran on a revised nuclear deal.

Minister for the Middle East at the Foreign Office Andrew Murrison said, “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) is the best means available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the deal and urge Iran to return to full compliance immediately. We, along with France and Germany, have made clear that we want to build on the JCPoA with a long-term successor that includes regional security issues and Iran’s ballistic missile programme. The UK remains determined to work with Iran on a diplomatic way forward and believes discussion on these issues should take place while the current nuclear deal remains in place.”

Later Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP also asked the Foreign Secretary what recent assessment his department has made for the potential for (a) an escalation of the conflict and (b) nuclear warfare in Kashmir.

Heather Wheeler MP, Under-secretary for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said, “We continue to monitor the situation in Kashmir and we urge all parties to refrain from actions that could jeopardise regional stability. We are in regular contact with the governments of India and Pakistan. The Prime Minister has underlined the importance of resolving issues through dialogue to his counterparts in both India and Pakistan. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary discussed the situation in Kashmir with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan and Lord Ahmad, Minister for South Asia, raised the issue with the Indian Minister of State for External and Parliamentary Affairs.”

 

Delays to Trident’s Replacement

This week Caroline Lucas asked the Secretary of State for Defence, what assessment he has made of the effect of the delay in the delivery of HMS Audacious to the in-service dates of the (a) final three Astute submarines; (b) Dreadnought submarines; (c) the schedule for dismantling out of service nuclear submarines and (d) the requirements for nuclear licensed dock capacity at Devonport; and if he will make a statement.

The Government’s response: The delay to the delivery of Audacious will have some impact on the schedule for the next Astute Class, Anson. We remain committed to delivering all seven Astute boats by the end of 2026. The Dreadnought programme is unaffected and remains on track for the first of the Dreadnought class submarines to enter service in the early 2030s. The planned in-service dates for Royal Navy submarines are withheld as disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces. The schedule for dismantling decommissioned nuclear submarines is unaffected. Work to determine the future infrastructure requirements at Devonport is continuing and is unaffected by the delay to the delivery of Audacious.

Caroline Lucas also asked what assessment he has made of the effect of the delay in the delivery of HMS Audacious on the cost of extending the service lives of Trafalgar-class submarines.

Answer from James Heappey MP: We do not routinely release planning assumptions for submarine availability as disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces. There are no additional costs over those which are currently planned.

 

Still no date for the Defence Review

As part of a wider revamp of Whitehall, the prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings would like to shake up the MOD. This was after he singled out a £6.2bn decision to build two new aircraft carriers as continuing to “squander billions of pounds”.

The Prime Minister also said during the General Election “…the government will undertake a new integrated foreign policy, security and defence review which will extend from the armed forces to the intelligence services, counter-terrorism, serious organised crime, diplomacy and development.”

The Trident replacement programme swallows up a large chunk of the defence budget.

This week the Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace was asked the question: What steps is his department taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to meet future needs?

Ben Wallace reiterated that the PM is committed to a foreign policy review and to the” deepest review of defence since the cold war.”
He went on to talk about strengthening the role of NATO, the UK’s commitment to the alliance and NATO continuing to expand into areas of hybrid threat.

Both Tobias Ellwood (the new Chair of the  Defence Select Committee) and Meg Hillier (Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) pushed for the timeframe for the Review to include parliamentary review. He just said “we [government] need to be realistic about what we are going to spend and honest to the public about what we’re going to do globally.”

The status of the Defence Review is unclear – although a wider Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is due in 2020.

 

Debating CND’s inclusion on Counter-terror list

Last week the Shadow Home Secretary asked the Secretary of State for Home Affairs why CND and others had been included on the counter-terrorism police guidance.

Diane Abbott MP said, “We also understand that in the guidance document, there is mention of organisations such as Greenpeace, the “Stop the badger cull” campaign, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and of vegan activists. Can the House be provided with a list of the organisations mentioned in the counter-terrorism police guidance? What is the basis for the inclusion of groups such as vegan activists? Will the Secretary of State accept that in a democracy there is a fundamental right to disagreement and non-violent campaigning, and that interfering with or denying that right—even through an error of judgment—is a fundamental breach of the democratic contract between the Government and the governed?”

Brandon Lewis responded saying “… The police have recalled the guidance and are reviewing it, and both we and the police have said that protest groups are not extremist groups, and that membership of a protest organisation is not—nor should it ever be—an indicator that an individual is vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. It is important that protest groups have that space. We believe in, defend and fight for freedom of speech, and will continue to do so.”

Since this statement in the House of Commons, it has been reported in The Guardian that Police Scotland have circulated the document.

Westminster tweets of the week

Luke Pollard MP questions government on recycling nuclear submarines

Luke Pollard MP asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, “What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on extending the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 to include recycling nuclear submarines.”

Andrew Stephenson responded “Officials in my Department have had several discussions with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence on how the expertise and resources of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority can best assist the submarine dismantling programme. However, we do not believe that extending the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 would provide an appropriate addition to that support.”

Luke Pollard followed up “I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is disappointing that that is the first time a Minister has said no to the cross-party request to extend the civil clean-up of nuclear sites to include old nuclear submarines, of which there are 13 in Devonport and six in Rosyth. Will the Minister lend the same support as his predecessor did and agree to meet the cross-party campaign? We have to find a way to safely recycle the submarines.”

Andrew Stephenson responded “The disposal of nuclear submarines is a complex and challenging undertaking that I last discussed with the Minister for defence procurement, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew, yesterday. As the hon. Gentleman will know from the meeting he had earlier this year, the Government have an established programme of work in place and are committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines as soon as practically possible. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter further.”