A few thoughts on a future UK Defence policy post- Brexit

People are asking a number of questions about UK defence policy, including its priorities, the amount of funding and if the approach is right for current and future needs. Some of the questions asked include:-

  • Has defence spending been affected by the EU “White Elephant”virus, e.g. like huge nuclear power stations and HS2?
  • Why were 2 huge carriers built at a cost of £6.2bn built when there aren’t enough patrol boats for the UK coast?
  • Why are troop numbers being reduced when more are urgently needed?
  • Why is so much being spent on huge new nuclear submarines, which are not used?
  • Is the procurement of expensive equipment being used to buy votes in elections?  – and at the expense of defence capability?

The defence budget currently amounts to £45bn. I believe it cold be spent in a more effective manner. Let us start by looking at current trends and recent events.

Recent events:

  • Afghanistan, Iraq: High altitude precision bombing – no aerial combat
  • Troops on the ground – insufficient to win the peace, relying on US troops, who are not natural country builders
  • Mediterranean: Massive influx of illegal people across the sea into Europe– hopeless response
  • The decline in the numbers of UK combat aircraft: 2006 = 220, 2015 = 149
  • The decline in the total number of UK Troops: 1990 = 120,000, 2017 = 80,000

Areas needing defence capability now:

  • Humanitarian aid
  • Natural disasters
  • Smuggling (all types)
  • Piracy.

Are these concerns being addressed by current defence spending?

During the Cold War, up to 6% of GDP was spent on defence. It is now down to 2% – currently £45bn. It includes the following:-

  • New large Trident submarines – 4, £31bn (£7bn each) with £10bn contingency for overruns
  • New F35, approximate cost £100m to £150m each, 17 ordered already, total expected to be 138, total over £13.8bn
  • New Wildcat helicopters – £26m each, 28 in total
  • New Destroyers: Type 45, current 6 vessels costing £1bn each, speed 35mph, range 7000 miles, more planned
  • Frigates, anti-submarine, type 26: 8 on order, speed 26 knots, range 7000 nmi,
  • Type 31 warships (smaller) : 5 planned to be built
  • New aircraft carriers: 280m (920ft) long, 9 decks, speed 26 knots (30 mph, 49 km/h), range 10,000 miles, troops 250 to 900, crew 769, berths 1600, 40 to 70 aircraft,

It sounds very impressive, but is still a defence cut in real terms. Has our cutting back militarily been a factor behind the Russian annexation of Crimea? – or the refugee influx?  What is more, our defence spending duplicates areas where the American military has similar resources – and vastly more than we  have or are planning to order.

Instead, I am proposing a complementary defence spending approach rather than duplicating the Americans. This would also help developing countries save on their defence spending?

Simpler alternatives – increasing capability

  • Nuclear deterrent: switch to 4 mini submarines, with 2 missiles each, regular 8 hour shifts into North Sea, ability to stay at sea for 4 weeks, operating deep enough not to be spotted from the air. Aim to construct these for £250m to £500m each, saving £29bn in procurement spending
  • Develop an increased ground launched missile capability
  • Develop air launched cruise missiles as well. These would cost around £1.5m each, with a speed of 550 mph and a range of 1550 miles
  • Improve ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) capability

Total saving with this revised missile programme would be around £25bn

  • Order no more F35s, saving £13.8bn
  • Buy Hawk planes (lightweight fighter) carry up to 3000kg (6600lb), speed 638 mph, range 383 mi (617 km), see if a short take off version can be built – for aircraft carriers, £18 million each, buy 300 Hawks, approximate cost £6bn
  • Buy an additional 50 Wildcat helicopters at a total cost of £1.4bn
  • Buy simplified aircraft carriers, 10 or more. Adopt a creative approach in the specification and leave off the bells and whistles. The vessels should be fast and able to carry 20 aircraft. Ideally, these should cost no more that £250m a piece. Start with answer: flight deck length and width to withstand combat aircraft landing, room for 20 aircraft, crew, up to 200 personnel – troops and/or civilians, lightweight. Blue sky thinking: 4 to 6 hydrofoils, holding up a lattice network of beams, supporting a landing deck and 1 deck for aircraft, speeds up to 70mph (110 km/h), with defensive armaments, and redundancy built in in case of attack. Usual catapult and also arresting wires. There are many other ideas which could be explored here.

Total cost £2.5bn

  • Patrol boats, hydrofoil: 20 fast hydrofoils with armaments, £10m each. Total £200m
  • Landing craft – to deal with the problem of illegals
  • Buy more new Tornadoes (£30m each), new Harriers (£30m each), Jaguars (£15m each) Chinook £15m each) Apache (£15m each). Perhaps turboprop planes for troop transport. Let the Americans buy F35s.
  • Troops: We currently have 80,000 plus 35,000 reservists. We should be aiming for 200,000 troops plus reservists.

Military spending among developing countries is high, e.g. Africa $40bn (Approx £35bn) a year. These valuable funds could be better used for schools, health, transport and the environment. Perhaps the UK could use the increase in aircraft and troops to offer – as a part of overseas aid – help with defence, so that developing country funds can be redirected to more useful ways in building their economies?

In summary

  • Cancelling: 120 more new F35 aircraft purchases, cancelling the new Trident submarine order. Saving £38bn.
  • Buying: 300 Hawk aircraft, 4 mini submarines, increasing full time troop numbers from 80,000 to 200,000, trialling new ideas for lighter and faster aircraft carriers, new fast patrol boats and hydrofoils.

The EU model of wasting funds on useless projects is not a good role model for UK or even European defence. With Brexit, we have an opportunity to liberate the UK from the EU way of thinking and develop a more effective defence capability.

The aim of this article is to highlight possible new ways to approach defence spending which are useful and have an immediate use in the wider world. Copying what the Americans can do with a bigger budget has left huge gaps in our defence capability. The UK’s expertise of winning the war and the peace has been compromised. A more practical approach to defence spending and simpler engineering, can make an improvement both to our own defence and also to our capacity to offer humanitarian assistance.

Hugo van Randwyck

 

Photo by grobertson4

Ireland – The Second Government Brexit position paper

No one wants to return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Even less does anyone, bar a few fanatics, want to return to the days of “the Troubles”. This much is obvious.

Settling the issues relating to what will be the UK’s only land border with the EU has been given a high priority by the EU too. Only yesterday, in response to the first UK government position paper (on customs), the  EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier,  named the Irish question as one of three important issues on which agreement would need to be reached before serious discussions on trade-related issues could begin.

So a mere 24 hours after the position paper on customs, another has appeared which offers us some insights into the Government’s thinking on Ireland.

The paper identifies four priorities:-

  1. Upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement in all its parts
  2. Maintaining the Common Travel Area and associated rights
  3. Avoiding a hard border for the movement of goods
  4. Aiming to preserve North-South and East-West cooperation, including on energy.

As far as the Good Friday Agreement is concerned, the paper points out that it was an agreement between the UK and the Irish Republic rather than the EU. Among other things, it affirmed “the permanent birthright of the people of Northern Ireland, irrespective of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status: to identify themselves and be accepted as British or Irish or both, as they may so choose; to equal treatment irrespective of their choice; and to hold both British and Irish citizenship.”  The UK Government has every intention to preserve this arrangement after Brexit.

The Common Travel Area pre-dated either the UK or the Irish Republic joining the European project. Indeed, Irish citizens have enjoyed special rights in the UK for most of the period since 1922 – a reflection of the strong, historic links between the Irish people and those in the UK. The Common Travel Area in its present form also involves the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which were never part of the EU. It allowed freedom of movement throughout the area and  allows Irish citizens to vote in the UK’s locla and Parliamentary elections.

Given that the Common Travel Area arrangements have been administered by the governments of the parties involved rather than by the EU and that the EU has been happy about this, the document maintains that there should be no reason why this situation should not continue after Brexit.

The “hard border” issue is likely to prove the most complex. In 1972, the paper informs us, there were 17 HM Customs and Excise boundary posts at the major road crossing points along the 310-mile long Northern Ireland land border and more than 200 other crossings not approved for vehicular traffic.  These have all disappeared but this is the number of potential crossing points which would need to be reinstated if a “hard border” were imposed. No wonder all sides are keen to avoid such a scenario.  Some farmers’ land straddles the border.

The paper recognises that it cannot propose a unilateral solution to the problem of maintaining the free flow of trade across the Irish border. It does, however, point to instances “where the EU has set aside the normal regulations and codes set out in EU law in order to recognise the circumstances of certain border areas.” – including the border between the Greek and Turkish sectors in Cyprus and the Croatia/Bosnia border. At the same time, the paper acknowledges that resolution of this issue “cannot be based on a precedent”. This makes sense for, after all, the EU’s aspiration is for Cyprus to be reunited with both parts of the island in the EU and likewise, Bosnia is a candidate country, even though it is unlikely to be joining the EU any time soon. By contrast, the UK is going in the opposite direction.

The paper also refers to the position paper on customs. Obviously, on the one hand the peoples of the UK and Ireland have an unique relationship, but the Irish Republic is an EU member state and part of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.  A solution for customs issues at the Irish border is inevitably going to be linked to wider customs and trade issues which will need to be addressed as part of the Brexit process, but as anyone who has visited the Irish Republic will be very aware, a substantial percentage of the products on sale in supermarkets in Irish towns and cities originate in the UK. It is therefore unsurprising that Irish officials are very concerned about the damage their economy may suffer if no trade and customs agreement is in place on Brexit. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, expressed a wish that the UK would not actually leave the EU, or if it did, that we would remain within the EEA. Dan Mulhall, the Irish Ambassador to the UK, by contrast, hoped that we would remain inside the Customs Union.

So the  progress towards the “innovative and untested” customs proposals and the possibility of a temporary customs arrangement discussed in the earlier position paper will be followed particularly closely in Dublin. Given that even if the UK government  changes tack and opts for ongoing membership of the EEA, agricultural goods would be outside this arrangement, it will take a lot of hard bargaining on both sides if all goods and services are to enjoy even relatively free access across the Irish border, whatever form that border may take. If it sticks to the proposals outlined in the position paper, there will be a number of areas where agreements on mutual recognition of conformity would have to be signed and time is short.

The North-South East-West cooperation may be a new term to many of us. North-South simply means the Belfast-Dublin axis and East-West refers to the relationship between London and Dublin. In many ways, the various fora such as the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference which have been set up under this label are the outworking of the recognition of the  close historic and geographical links between the UK and the Irish Republic. The cooperation has manifested itself in some specific sectors such as energy and the position paper emphasizes the need for the cooperation to continue after Brexit.

With this in mind, the concluding statement that a formal agreement between the EU and the UK on the Irish border issue early in the Brexit negotiations would not mean the end of any dialogue between the UK and the Irish government makes perfect sense. There will be a number of bilateral issues to resolve which do not directly involve the EU as a whole.

As with the position paper on customs, the abiding impression left by this document is that it has identified the issues which need a resolution without offering too much detail as to how they are to be resolved. Unlike the customs paper, however, where failure to reach an agreement would be far more disastrous for the UK than for the EU as a whole, when it comes to Ireland, a crashing out of the EU with no agreement would probably hit them harder than us. The Irish government is well aware of this and we cannot but hope for their sakes as well as ours that it will not be WTO rules on March 30th.

 

Customs: What the Government position paper told us

Today, the Government published its first Brexit position paper, which covers future customs arrangements. It is a short document, only 16 pages long and intended to be a precursor to a White Paper on trade which is scheduled to appear in the autumn.

What does it tell us? Firstly, the Government has been talking to businesses concerned about a “cliff edge” situation on 29th March 2019 and is seeking to ensure that we will end up with  “the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU, and allows us to forge new trade relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world.”

The paper expresses enthusiasm for striking trade deals with “old friends and new allies” – in other words, the Commonwealth nations and the rapidly growing economies of Asia. We can only do this from outside the EU and particularly, outside the Customs Union. It was announced very early after Mrs May took office that we will be leaving the EU’s customs union – in many ways, this was a bit of a non-issue as it was hardly mentioned during the referendum campaign.

The paper recognises  the challenges of establishing a new relationship with the EU. As a short-term transitional measure, what is proposed is in effect a shadow customs union where by the EU will treat the UK as thought it was a member of the customs union. David Davis, interviewed on Radio 4 today, was adamant that the transitional period would end before the next General election – probably no more than two years – to be replaced by a “deep and special partnership” with the EU. This, the paper admits, will be an innovative but untested approach. It suggests two options:-

  • A highly streamlined customs arrangement between the UK and the EU, streamlining and simplifying requirements, leaving as few additional requirements on UK-EU trade as possible. This would aim to: continue some of the existing agreements between the UK and the EU; put in place new negotiated and unilateral facilitations to reduce and remove barriers to trade; and implement technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with customs procedures.
  • A new customs partnership with the EU, aligning our approach to the customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU customs border. One potential approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.

There is, in theory, a third option – failure to reach an agreement (see Paragraph 53), but the paper insists that “this is not the Government’s preferred outcome to the negotiations, but it is essential that the UK is prepared for all possible outcomes of customs arrangements.” As for the first option – a high-tech solution, there are some doubts as to whether it really will create frictionless borders, especially as soon as March 2019. As one analyst has said, ” making sure there are no traffic jams in Dover will be more about the arts of management, politics and the law than technology.

The obvious concern on reading the paper through is that this paper is very much a UK wish list. The EU is under no obligation to say yes. What is a particular cause for concern is that its treaty-based structure may not allow it to treat us as an honorary member of its Customs Union.  It is likely that we will be able to devise a system allowing  goods from the EU a reasonably smooth passage through UK customs by March 2019, especially as the if the new customs declaration service using state-of-the-art technology is up and running by then. What is far from certain is that our exports to the EU will enjoy anything like a seamless passage through their customs.  The EU will have to change its customs procedures to adapt to the different  status of the UK on Brexit. Are they prepared to do this?

We will have to wait a while for a formal response. So far, the main comment from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is that no discussions on customs can proceed until sufficient progress is made on the UK’s exit bill, the Irish border and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit. Guy Verhofstadt, representing the EU Parliament, was  very sceptical, dismissing talk of a shadow customs union and invisible borders as “fantasy”.

One also would like to know if the author(s) of this paper are sufficiently aware of the differences between a customs union and a customs clearance agreement.  The latter is essential, the former almost certainly not, even as an interim arrangement.

The CBI has nonetheless described the proposal as “encouraging”.  David Davis’ interview made it clear that his Department still has a few cards up his sleeve and that for tactical reasons, he was not prepared to give anything further away. What has been put into the public domain has shown that the Government is aware of the issues UK businesses will face but offers little detail on how they will be resolved.

Is David Davis going to set us free from the EAW?

It is very good to see that David Davis, by raising the point about the supremacy of the ECJ’s jurisdiction over the EAW, has taken a first step to breaking us free from the shackles of the continental inquisitorial justice system, so alien from ours. I am hoping that he might now take a second step, viz, as follows:

In my speech on Alien Legal Systems, at the CIB event in the House of Lords on March 15th this year, I mentioned David Davis. Here is an extract from that speech, with my personal challenge to him which he might now answer, and indeed perhaps he will answer it:

 “For us in Britain, the preliminary public hearing in open court,  where the prisoner is formally charged, must take place within hours, or at the most a few days, after his arrest and detention.

Some years ago there was an attempt to extend this, in serious terrorist cases, to three months, then reduced to six weeks. An MP called David Davis fought a noble battle of principle against this – he resigned his seat and stood again for Parliament on this very point – Habeas Corpus. He won and was returned to his seat. In the end, Parliament fixed a maximum limit of 28 days of detention without charge, and only in exceptional cases of terrorism. This is what we in Britain consider to be “reasonable”.

But for many EU states, under their Napoleonic-inquisitorial jurisdictions, it is considered “reasonable” to keep a prisoner under lock and key with no public hearing for six months, extensible by three months at a time. These are the terms of the Commission’s Corpus Juris proposal for an embryo single uniform criminal code to cover the whole of Europe, including the British Isles. This is what is may be faced by anyone in Britain who is targeted by a European Arrest Warrant. And on a long list of crimes, not just terrorist cases.

Now is the David Davis who resigned his seat to stop the six weeks’  detention bill on no evidence, the same David Davis now in charge of the government’s Brexit department? If so, does he share Ms Rudd’s wish to keep us subject to, not six weeks, but six months and, in the case of Andrew Symeou, nearly a whole year’s detention with no public hearing? If he opposes it, will he please say so openly?

This is no marginal matter. As I have shown, whoever controls criminal justice, controls the police and prisons, and thus holds the  ace of trumps in the struggle for power over a country. And that is precisely what Brexit is really about – who shall hold power in this land? Shall it be the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels? Or shall it be the people of Britain?

So we see that the European Convention is a very thin blanket,  designed to cover systems with Habeas Corpus as well as those without. It can only work if the woolly ambiguity of its use of words like “reasonable” [in article 6, referring to a prisoner’s right to a public hearing within a “reasonable time”] remains unchallenged.”

[For your ease of reference, the whole speech is here (7 pages)]

Re-taking our place in the world

At least a third of voters always planned on leaving the EU and were not going to be persuaded otherwise. This didn’t happen on the back of something written on a bus. This was cumulative. For many the final straw was the Lisbon Treaty which was in effect an EU constitution giving it a legal personality in world affairs.

For something that so radically changed our relationship with what was (and still is) viewed as a trade relationship, it should have been put to a referendum. That our political establishment set about ratifying it, using any means at their disposal to dodge a referendum, was evidence of a political establishment which had long since given up any sense of obligation to seek consent when acting in regard to the EU.

What compounds that act was the fact that those who voted for it had very little idea what they were agreeing to. Remainers often complain that there was no impact assessment for Brexit, yet where was the comprehensive national debate over ratifying Lisbon?

We leavers warned that Lisbon would make EU membership all but impossible to reverse – and to an extent we were right. Brexit is no easy feat – and to do it properly will take more than a decade. Our main concern at the time was that the EU is a long term project which gathers its powers by stealth, creeping ever more toward a federalist entity.

Where possible I have tended to avoid the term “European superstate” largely because that kind of terminology lands you in kipper territory where that kind of hackneyed rhetoric is an instant turn off. But that is exactly what the EU is and though remainers can nominally say that we retain our sovereignty, the question is over what? – and for how much longer?

In that regard you have to look up the chain to see how this affects the UK. As we continue to argue, the centre of the regulatory universe is increasingly Geneva, not Brussels – where the WTO TBT agreement provides the foundation of a global regulatory union.

Critics point out that implementation of this is hotly disputed and that its installation is piecemeal and subject to a number of registered exceptions, but like the EU, it is not the status quo that concerns us, rather it is the direction of travel.

While I have always been opposed to trade being an occupied field, the nature of trade agreements is changing, encompassing ever more regulatory measures extending far beyond what we would traditionally call a trade barrier. In order to eliminate distortions in labour, for example the shipping industry using Filipino slave labour, we increasingly adopt International Labour Organisation conventions in trade agreements.

Superficially there is no reason for alarm but what this means in practice is that for the EU to continue with trade exclusivity it must assume exclusive competence over areas not traditionally concerned with trade. In order to tie up these loose ends and overlaps there will eventually be a need for a new EU treaty which involves another substantial transfer of powers. But in the meantime, the ECJ will be the instrument of integration, confiscating ever more powers by the back door.

The eventual destination in this is the deletion of EU member states as independent actors on any of the global forums, with access to them controlled exclusively by Brussels. We would no longer have a voice in our own right and being bound to the EU customs code we would cease to be an independent country in all the ways that matter. This, to me, is why Brexit is absolutely necessary and the high price is one worth paying.

Remainers would argue that we still maintain significant influence by way of being an EU member. Superficially this is correct and Brexit will, temporarily, lead to a loss of influence. But whose influence is it anyway? We are told that the UK was instrumental in pushing for EU expansion. That remains a bad idea and accession states will remain in a state of limbo until such a point as there is a major political or financial crisis – or they leave of their own accord.

But this goes back to the opening premise. It’s no good to say that we have influence in Europe if we have no influence over our government. What remainers say when they say “we” have influence, they mean our permissive, unaccountable, political élites have influence – but actually only in those instances where their ambitions are in alignment with the ideology of the EU.

As much as Brexit is about severing the political integration of the EU, it is also a slapdown for our political class who have never had any intention of seeking consent – and where the EU is concerned, will tell any lie to that end.

In a lot of respects the classic arguments against the EU are legacy complaints where the damage cannot be undone. Leaving the EU does not reverse or remedy what was done to us and for the most part the UK has adapted to the new paradigm. What concerns us is whether there are the necessary safeguards to prevent yet more sweeping changes in the face of globalisation.

We are told that trade liberalisation is good for us – and on a philosophical and technical level I’m not going to argue, but on the human level, it has consequences that directly impact our lives.  This is something we should have a say in, be it opening our markets to American agriculture or letting market forces eat away at our steel industry. There are strategic concerns as well as the economic – and a dogmatic adherence to the principles of free trade is dangerous.

In recent times we have seen EU trade deals derailed because of concerns like chlorine washed chickens, but one suspects this is largely motivated by an inherent anti-Americanism, and were these topics included in any other trade agreement, nobody would have ever uttered the phrase “chlorinated chicken” – and we’d already be eating it.

The fact is that too much is going on out of sight and out of mind. Brexit is a remedy to that. We have already seen a robust debate on the shape of a future UK-US agreement and I fully expect other deals to come under similar scrutiny. I know the powerful UK agriculture lobby will be watching very closely indeed.

As much as Brexit is necessary as a defensive measure against hyper-globalisation, it is also about restoring the UK as an independent actor. As far as most people are concerned, foreign policy is just who we decide who to drop bombs on and who to dole out humanitarian aid. This is what happens when trade, a crucial element of foreign policy, is broken out of policy making and farmed out to the EU. It leaves all the strands of foreign policy happening in abstract to any coherent agenda while removing one of the more useful leverage tools.

Brexit is a means of reintegrating all of these separate strands so that we can have an effective presence on the world stage without seeking a convoluted compromise through Brussels – assuming we can get permission to act at all. The best part of it is that it does not preclude close cooperation with the EU. Obviously Brexit does not give us a free hand and our legacy ties with the EU will be a constraint, but it opens the way for more imaginative approaches than cumbersome EU FTAs.

One overlooked facet of the Brexit debate is that it gives us the opportunity to reconfigure a lot of the agreements we already have via the EU. In most respects, carrying over EU deals need not be a great headache, not least since we are maintaining existing schedules – but it’s the extras we can reappraise. In the EU-Singapore agreement there is a dedicated section on renewable energy – largely reproducing WTO tract. We could either enhance or delete these sections, establishing new joint ventures and working parities, including a number of sectors not touched on by the EU.

This need not happen in competition with the EU, rather it can be a complimentary strategy where one of Europe’s trading powers is free to explore avenues which could potentially benefit all of the EU. Having a major trading nation not bound by the bureaucratic inertia of the EU could well be a secret weapon for Brussels. That would make future EU-UK relations a strategic partnership rather than a subordinate relationship. There is no reason why Brexit cannot be mutually beneficial. All it takes is a little bit of vision.

New research paper by Futurus – The negotiations will fail

The title of this latest publication from Futurus may appear provocative but the prospect of concluding a jointly agreed leaving process and a future relationship so it can come into effect, possibly with a transition period, by March 2019 seems very remote.

There have been faults on both sides and the UK government’s failure to set out what exactly it wants the outcome to be has been a particular problem.

The UK government need not have agreed to the EU’s proposed sequence of events – the settlement of the Irish border issue and the exit fee – before discussing trading arrangements. Under Article 50, it need not have done so.

A mutually-agreed pause in the negotiations looks likely or else failure looks highly probable.

The full paper can be downloaded here. PLEASE NOTE: The paper has been revised since this article  was first published.