With all sections of Government having moved into the process of purdah at midnight and this meaning an end to contract and other political announcements until after the General Election on December 12th, it was particularly pleasing to see Alan Tovey’s Daily Telegraph story late last evening that the MOD had suspended the bid process for the proposed build of three Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships required to support the two new Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and other RN vessels.
Interestingly, as far as the public is concerned the MOD decision has apparently been based on similar grounds to the stance it took earlier this year when it cancelled the ASDOT process – a belief that “the current approach will not deliver the requirement”. But the reality is that amid howls of anguish and dismay from politicians, trade unions about the possibility of the MOD awarding the contract to a foreign shipyard (something that many insiders believed the MOD had wanted to do) and that this would be contrary to the government’s own UK Shipbuilding Strategy, the MOD has sensibly decided to cancel the current bid process on the basis that to have made an award to a foreign bidder was now perceived by ministers as being had far too dangerous politically.
The Minster for Defence Procurement, Anne Marie Trevelyan is to be congratulated for her stance in fighting to ensure that contracts for the three support ships would not be given to a foreign shipyard.
Politically controversial from the outset and a decision that will rightly be perceived by the UK shipbuilding industry, trade unions and politicians of all parties as being a sensible climb down by the MOD from the expectation that the build of the three proposed Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships was very likely to be awarded to a Spanish shipbuilding yard, the MOD decision does at the very least remove what could have become a major election issue in certain UK shipbuilding constituencies.
But it doesn’t as yet ensure that in future all defence related shipbuilding requirement not already covered by existing laws such as those that exist to ensure Royal Navy fighting vessels and submarines are all built in the UK, will from now on always be built here in the UK.
The hope will be that when the bid process re-emerges sometime after the General Election the Government will reclassify the ships to come under the military/defence category meaning that they would all have to be built in the UK, a law that as mention above, applies to all other Royal Navy fighting vessels and that, whether or not we leave or remain in the European Union, RFA support vessels would in future be exempt from EU protectionist laws.
No one is suggesting that the MOD should be forced to pay over the top because building ships in the UK is considered to be more expensive than some Asian or Southern European shipyards but it is to say that the UK should not ignore that in order to price lower many foreign yards are subsidised by their governments. That does not occur in the UK. Moreover, no other country that has a developed economy and shipbuilding capacity such as the UK has would allow a defence funded ship programme to be awarded to a foreign yard.
While the MOD decision does not imply that they will not once again go out to a full international tender process I doubt that they will do so. Ultimately it would seem that the logical idea to move forward with these ships would be a consortium of UK shipbuilders such as had been envisaged in the ‘Team UK’ bid comprising BAE Systems, Babcock International, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The award of contracts for 500 Boxer armoured vehicles for the British Army which was announced late Monday is excellent news for the military as it also is for the UK defence supply chain. Rheinmetall’s modular 8 x 8 high mobility network enabled Boxer armoured vehicle is expected to enter British Army service from 2023.
The British Army had sensibly re-joined the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) Boxer programme in March 2018 and the Boxer award is a result of this. Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land Joint venture operation in Telford will now play a significant role in manufacturing of Boxer for the British Army’s Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) programme
Have we as a nation become so pathetic or should I say, politically correct that MI5, an organisation that acts as the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security service and that has a mission to protect the people from danger be this from terrorism or damaging espionage by hostile states, now finds itself having to fight an attempt that, if successful, would force the organisation to disclose secret guidance that allows its officers, if deemed necessary, to authorise recruited informants to take part in crimes without informing prosecutors?
Described as being a unique case, the tribunal set up to hear the action will over four days this week hear submissions before most likely reserving judgement the action which is being brought by four campaign groups is thankfully largely taking place in secret. The action comes a year after the government confirmed the existence of what had previously been a secret document known as the “Third Directive” that allows for the possibility of recruited MI5 informants and agents being allowed to commit crimes if they are deemed to be in the national interest without having a follow on duty to tell police and prosecutors what had happened.
Rightly in my view, accompanying detailed guidance on how the specific MI5 policy works in practice should remain secret. In any case, what has already been disclosed demonstrates that authorisation must be seen to be in the interests of either preventing a more serious offence, protecting an informant’s cover or protecting national security.
MI5 has done a brilliant job of protecting the UK over many decades and it has, as far as I am aware, never faced any challenge in respect of how it functions. Nor should it and neither I suspect do similar organisations in other western nations let alone those of our would-be enemies.
In legal papers disclosed yesterday government lawyers acting on behalf of MI5 said that: “It would be impossible [for MI5 to fulfil its functions] effectively without covert human intelligence sources. They are indispensable. The Security Service does not, and does not purport to, confer immunity from criminal liability. It is not able to authorise activity which would breach… the European Convention on Human Rights. The case is that they do not do so” adding that “The Security Service has, since its inception, run agents; and agents have had to participate in conduct that might be or would be criminal as an integral part of their ability to operate”.
The tribunal was told MI5 had reviewed all available records of agents being involved in crimes since October 2000 and that result of what had been a secret audit had been given to the tribunal although it would not be disclosed to the public. MI5 lawyers stated that this is not a ‘nice to have power’… it is [one that is deemed] critical and which the whole point of the agent involvement is to avoid loss of life and limb.”.
It would be wrong for me to add anything further ahead of a final tribunal ruling – one that I suspect will not appear for some considerable time.
Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee Russia Interference Report Delay
On a separate issue that partly involves MI5 and in which the Government denies claims that it has been suppressing publication of a report written by the Parliament Intelligence and Security Committee and whose chairman was, until yesterday, Dominic Grieve on the matter of alleged Russian interference in UK democracy, until after the General Election I suggest that this is most probably a very sensible stance for No 10 to take.
The report which has been examining alleged Russian activity including those of possible espionage, subversion and interference in the 2026 EU referendum vote and 2017 General election includes evidence provided by UK intelligence services including those of the Cheltenham based GCHQ, and London based MI5 and MI6 organisations.
Although we are now in a General Election campaign the Government has the absolute right to withhold publication. Why it has done so we have not been told although we do apparently know from Mr. Grieve that the intelligence services have indicated that publication of the report would not prejudice the discharge of their functions.
Whilst I understand that Lord Evans of Weardale, a former Director General of MI5 has taken the view that at the very least the Government should explain why it has not been prepared to publish the report and also of the wish by Mr. Grieve, a former Attorney General and who, having lost the Conservative whip is intending to stand as an independent candidate in his former Beaconsfield constituency in the coming General Election, to have the document published and out in the public domain, the balance of probability in my judgement would be that the decision to delay publication of what must surely be deemed as a sensitive document until after the General Election is right.
CHW (London – 6th November 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785