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Defence Select Committee Chair Follow-Up – Bernard Jenkin and Robert Courts By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






Further to yesterday’s commentary on the value of all House of Commons Select Committees, the important work that they do in respect of scrutiny and the particular reference made by me to the Defence Select Committee, Mr. Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Witney, Oxfordshire and Mr. Bernard Jenkin MP, the long-time Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, two of four candidates to have put their names forward for election of chair of the Defence Committee and on which MP’s will decide tomorrow, have published articles in the current issue of the Parliament Magazine ‘The House’.

I am aware of two other two candidates that have also put their names forward – these being James Gray and Tobias Ellwood, MP’s for North Wilshire and Bournemouth East respectively.

Although I know all four candidates mentioned above well it is not my place to provide favour for any particular candidate but, given the importance of the subject, I thought that it might be useful to republish the two published articles below:

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

“The core purpose of the Defence Select Committee is to conduct robust scrutiny of defence ministers, officials and service chiefs in order to help create conditions where the public can have justified confidence in UK defence policy, the MoD and the Armed Forces. Scrutiny should be positive and forward looking, holding ministers and officials to account to promote learning and improvement.

Now is a critical time for UK defence. The forthcoming defence and foreign policy review must face the reality that the UK, and the West’s values and institutions, are facing new challenges from across the world.

Having always had a deep interest in defence, I served as Shadow Secretary of State for two years, and then four years on the defence committee. I also bring my experience as chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), following our reports on national strategy, government contracting and procurement, and the lessons of Chilcott.

The most immediate question is the UK’s future relationship with our European neighbours, as we leave the EU. There is broad consensus that the UK should have a strong new partnership with European defence within the Nato framework. If Nato cannot guarantee peace and security for us Europeans, then what will? Nato also does not interfere with the strategic and operational independence of its members, and Nato does not preclude cooperation with the EU and its member states on military operations, training, defence doctrine and procurement. So, while reinforcing the primacy of Nato and the importance of our other bilateral defence relationships, such as with the US, how will the government proceed?

Defence policy must recognise the shift of power from West to East in recent decades. The democratic world is facing rising threats, such as the China’s challenge to the international order, Russian aggression, hybrid warfare, global terrorism and failed states. The government must acquire the military capability and defence diplomacy in order to reform failed states and to promote democratic values to other countries. It must also recognise the volatility of the Middle East and the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation, which is unlikely to be confined to Iran and North Korea in the longer term.

All this requires new thinking about how the government spends its defence budget. Massing a large arsenal of weapons and systems at great cost is no good if the UK finds itself dealing with threats we never anticipated. UK national strategy has to be more about being ready for what we cannot predict or anticipate.

As well as completing inquiries on major projects and global terrorism, I would also ask the committee to monitor defence negotiations with the EU, shadow the foreign policy and defence review, and scrutinise MoD capability, particularly on procurement. The committee must also hold the government to account for its promises to armed forces personnel and veterans. As a Vice President of Combat Stress, the mental welfare charity for armed forces personnel, I attach particular importance to this”.

Mr. Robert Courts

“After careful consideration, I have decided to put myself forward to be chair of the Defence Select Committee on Wednesday 29 January.

The next chair has huge boots to fill, with Julian Lewis having served the committee with distinction and principle since 2014. At the beginning of a new decade, with an uncertain global landscape before us, the need for Britain to display leadership on the international stage could not be greater.

If the UK is to fully demonstrate the global leadership a free world requires and our allies expect, we need to upgrade all levels of our nation’s defence and hard power, increasing investment to strengthen the size and capability of our armed forces. It also means addressing the inadequacies of our procurement processes and improving our offer to personnel before, during and after service.

The upcoming Defence, Security and Foreign Policy Review presents the Government with an opportunity to address all of these issues, ensuring a UK defence policy able to tackle the threats of the modern world and achieve our wider geo-strategic ambitions.

This work will need an effective Defence Select Committee holding the Government to account every step of the way, led by a chair with in-depth knowledge and tireless commitment – I believe I have these assets.

I have, in a relatively short time in Parliament, built a reputation for understanding the intricacies of procurement, being credited by the Commons Library with “leading the Parliamentary pressure” for a Combat Air Strategy in order to develop the next-generation aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force’s Typhoon multi-role jets. The Government announced such as strategy in July 2018 as Team Tempest.

I am also on record as calling for strategies for rotary aircraft and for the new aircraft carriers, believing that retaining essential sovereign capability requires a stable, sustainable industrial base – and that foreign policy goals need to precede, not follow, an assessment of the size and shape of our armed forces.

I have completed both the RAF and Royal Navy Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and am enrolled on the Royal College of Defence Studies course.

I represent the largest base in the Royal Air Force – RAF Brize Norton, home to the UK’s transport and air-to-air refuelling fleet – and approximately one quarter of the entire RAF. This gives me a uniquely valuable perspective: I represent a town that is intertwined with the RAF both in terms of economy and identity, enabling me to understand the challenges of housing, personnel retention, family welfare, and the Covenant in detail.

Furthermore, my background as a barrister would, I believe, be a helpful attribute for the chair. Not only because I am used to analysing complicated issues and asking the right questions, but because many of the key issues the committee will deal with – from procurement to historic allegation against veterans – are as much legal issues as they are military.

I hope colleagues from across the House feel that I would be an effective chair of this critical Committee and would be honoured if they offered me their support on Wednesday”.

CHW (London – 28th January 2020)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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