Naturally, I am extremely delighted that UK Defence and Security Exports – the former DESO (Defence Export Services Organisation) – has appointed Lord (Mark) Lancaster as a Defence Export Advocate in order that, with the significant experience he has of defence, he can assist the drive to increase UK defence and security exports.
Back in 2008, apparently under orders or should I perhaps better say advise, from Baroness Shriti Vadera, the then prime minister Gordon Brown effectively kicked the UK Defence Export Services Organisation into the long grass by moving it from Ministry of Defence responsibility to that of what is now called the Department for International Trade.
Done purely on grounds of so-called political correctness and maybe by someone who had former links to ‘Oxfam’ and which organisation has been a long-standing supporter of ‘Campaign Against The Arms Trade’, I will rest my case.
After all the damage that Gordon Brown caused by allowing himself to be persuaded by Baroness Shriti Vadera that defence exports were effectively ‘dirty words’ and the organisation that had been set up by the then Labour Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey in 1966 following a report from the late Lord Ryder of what Britain needed to do to bolster defence exports and that over the next fifty years, much to the chagrin of our French and US competitors, was hugely successful working with industry in winning many substantial export orders Mark Lancaster, who I know reasonably well, is an excellent choice.
As a very long time advocate of UK defence exports and having worked alongside the former DESO on several campaigns spread over many years past and to this day I remain a very active supporter of defence exports, I would like to offer Mark Lancaster just a few very important points that may in the years ahead assist his cause.
Firstly: Always listen to the potential export customer and never be tempted to tell him what he can have before asking him what it is that they actually want.
Secondly: Defence is one of the very few businesses that unless one is talking about the supply chain, there is and can be only one type of customer – Governments. So, remember that many foreign countries seeking to potentially procure equipment from the UK only want to deal with the Prime Minister or Secretary of State. Many also want what are called government to government deals whereby the nation selling the product organises loans and loan guarantees and may also require that the seller invest in the buyer’s country. That is the way of how things, must increasingly be done on large contractual work and it is the same for everyone seeking to win. I don’t envisage any change in the importance of our accepting more ‘Government to Government’ deals despite the UK governments long grudging acceptance of these and particular reticence of the Treasury and Cabinet Office.
Thirdly: Ensure that the MOD, Treasury and Cabinet Office are singing from the same hymn-sheet. Advocates are often told that they are but when it comes to the crunch, one or other of them has the ability to kill a deal at a stroke
Never ever promise more than you can reasonably deliver. You as a minister or advocate will be the loser for that.
Always ensure that the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the Army are onside and willing to proffer large amounts of support. Never allow inter-force rivalry to take hold. The Royal Navy has a very long history of supporting defence export campaigns and showing UK presence wherever it goes. Sadly the Army has got very little to show off to international potential customers and with some rather low priority matters having been over prioritised over the past three years I am not sure, with the exception of international partnerships such as Eurofighter Typhoon, EH-101 Merlin and Tempest etc, whether the modern day Royal Air Force still understands the value and importance that exports bring to the nation.
Finally, having myself watched so many great strengths that the former DESO had being whittled away over the past twenty years and the brilliant job done by people such as the late Alan Garwood and Sir Richard Paniguian and others during their terms as Head of DESO, might I make two requests:
Firstly, that although it would, because it is ‘defence exports’ we are talking about here, now be too complicated to move UK Defence and Security Exports away from the Department of International Trade responsibility, we need to restart hiring more key people into the organisation from both the military and private sector.
One example of the whittling away I mention above was that Adam Thomas who for decades has worked so hard to spread the message of UK intent to export more defence equipment and in opening up more doors through, for instance, talking with and encouraging foreign based journalists to better understand what the UK had to offer, was shall we say, ‘encouraged’ or that ‘no-one stood in the way and tried to persuade him to stay, an left the organisation not because he was doing anything wrong but because he appeared to many of outside, to be the only one left flying the flag! His departure in 2021 effectively meant that UK Defence and Security Exports lost its voice.
I have no idea whether the now very much slimmed down UK Defence and Security Exports organisation has a public/press spokesperson or not but I can say that having not heard as much as a dicky-bird from anyone in that organisation for well over a year, it quite definitely needs one!
I very genuinely wish Mark Lancaster well in his chosen new task and as an ex-Army man, just as Secretary of State for Defence, he Rt. Hon Ben Wallace is also, I hope that the world is his oyster and that he achieves good success. In any event, as I have done over the past twenty-five years for ‘love’ in many parts of the world, he will have my continued support.
CHW (London – 26th January 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785