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.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP questions Government on Trident D-5 missile

Anne-Marie Trevelyan asked the Secretary of State for Defence, “how long it would take, and at what cost, for her Department to procure a Trident D-5 missile.”

Stuart Andrew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, responded “The UK’s Trident II D5 missiles form part of a pool of available missiles shared with the US. The UK pays an annual contribution to the continued maintenance of the missile stock based on our share of the overall missile inventory.”

Governments of France, Germany and the UK release a statement on the Iran nuclear deal

In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom said: 


“We, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, sharing common security interests, in particular upholding the non-proliferation regime, recall our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) that was agreed upon 4 years ago with Iran, on 14 July 2015.

Since 2003, our 3 countries, later joined by the United States, Russia and China, have been engaged in a long-standing and determined policy vis à vis Iran with the clear objective that this country, a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, respects its obligations in good faith and never develops or acquires a nuclear weapon.

Together, we have stated unambiguously on 8 May 2018 our regret and concern after the decision of the United States to withdraw from the JCPoA and to re-impose sanctions on Iran, while this country had implemented its commitments under the agreement – as consistently confirmed by the IAEA until last month. Since May 2018, our 3 countries have made their best efforts to work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure that the Iranian people could continue to benefit from the legitimate economic advantages provided by the JCPoA.

Today, we are concerned by the risk that the JCPoA further unravels under the strain of sanctions imposed by the United States and following Iran’s decision to no longer implement several of the central provisions of the agreement. We are extremely concerned by Iran’s decision to stockpile and enrich uranium in excess of authorised limits. Moreover, our three countries are deeply troubled by the attacks we have witnessed in the Persian Gulf and beyond, and by the deterioration of the security in the region.

We believe the time has come to act responsibly and seek a path to stop the escalation of tensions and resume dialogue. The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause and consider the possible consequences of their actions.

Our countries have recently taken several diplomatic initiatives to contribute to de-escalation and dialogue, for which signs of goodwill are urgently needed, from all sides. While we continue to support the JCPoA, its continuation is contingent on Iran’s full compliance, and we strongly urge Iran to reverse its recent decisions in this regard. We will continue to explore the avenues of dialogue foreseen under the agreement to address Iran’s compliance, including through the Joint Commission of the JCPoA.

In search of a resolution we will continue our active engagement with all interested parties, in the interest of the preservation of international peace and security.”