2018 04 25 JG RN YoEThis week, James Gray, MP North Wiltshire, has been hosting a week-long exhibition in Parliament to celebrate the Government’s Year of Engineering campaign. The exhibition consists of displays created by the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey.

Mr Gray said: “I am delighted to have been able to help the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey showcase their incredible contributions to British engineering as part of the national Year of Engineering”.

The Royal Navy is showcasing its key role in promoting careers in engineering and the role it plays in everyday life. Approximately a third of the Royal Navy’s personnel are engineers and technicians, who serve as the ‘beating heart’ of operational capability.

The British Antarctic Survey, meanwhile, is displaying an incredibly detailed model of the Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s new polar research ship. The ship was commissioned by the Natural Environmental Research Council, is being built by Cammell Laird, and will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey. From 2019, it will provide a state-of-the-art platform from which scientists will tackle some of the most important issues facing humanity, including climate change, future sea-level rise, and marine biodiversity.

Mr Gray, who, is Chairman of both the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, added: “It is important that Parliament gets to see the very best that British engineering has to offer, especially where tax-payer funded projects are concerned.”

Whether you are in favour of punitive strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, or against them, a Parliamentary vote on the subject will not help. There were Parliamentary votes on not a single one of the 124 wars waged by the UK since 1800. There was no vote on the First or Second World Wars, nor on the Falklands, nor Gulf 1. The Prime Minister kept Parliament informed - of course (s)he did. And he could not have gone ahead without a reasonable certainty that he had popular and political support for the war in question. If that were not the case he would not remain PM for very long. But there was no formal vote on them.

The first time that Parliament was asked either to approve or to prevent a military deployment was in 2003, when Tony Blair secured not one but three Parliamentary votes on his (very probably illegal) invasion of Iraq in 2003. That cannot give anyone- whether in favour or against a strike against Syria- much confidence that Parliamentary votes necessarily ‘get it right!’ There was a vote only after the strikes in Libya - again, perhaps not a great precedent. Parliament voted against bombing Assad in 2013 (and last weekend’s chemical gas attacks may well be a direct result of that decision); and Parliament voted in favour of bombing ISIS in both Iraq and Syria more recently. The point is that there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that politicising warfare by asking backbench MPs to vote on it, results in the correct decision being taken.

After all, we do not have the secret intelligence, the military assessments, nor the legal advice which is available to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. We do not know whether or not we could have precision strikes against Syrian military bases without ‘collateral damage’, or Russian casualties. We do not know what the Russian reaction would be. We do not know what the Americans and French are planning. We do not even know whether it was a chemical attack or not. We do not know those things – AND WE SHOULD NOT KNOW THEM. They are matters for the generals and intelligence chiefs advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet. And it is they who must take those terrible decisions either to go to war, or indeed not to do so, (the consequences of which may sometimes be even worse than a limited strike against an aggressor or war criminal.)

Not only all of that, but whipping backbench MPs either to support (or perhaps to oppose) a military action proposed by the PM and Government effectively hamstrings, even emasculates Parliament. For if we voted for the war - as we did in 2003 over Iraq, for example- we cannot then realistically criticise the Government for doing the very thing which we voted for. The same applies the other way round. It is hard, if not impossible, for MPs like me who voted against the strikes against Assad in 2013 now to admit that we may have been wrong, and then hold the Government to account for not doing something which we made them not do.

By insisting on a Parliamentary vote, we are making it a Parliamentary decision, not a decision by the PM and Executive. And by that very action we prevent ourselves from thereafter holding the Government to account and criticising what they have done.

So I very much hope that Theresa May either joins in with a US strike against, Assad, or that she does not do so for good military or intelligence or legal reasons. Either way round, she should not be shielding her decision by seeking a Parliamentary vote on the matter. She should not be allowed that political top-cover.

James Gray MP is a member of the Joint Committee on National Security (formerly of the Defence Committee); he is Chairman of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust and co-author of “Who Takes Britain to War. (History Press, 2015.)

2018 02 26 IceMaidens webJames Gray, MP North Wiltshire, and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, yesterday welcomed Expedition Ice Maiden to Parliament to celebrate their accomplishment of becoming the first all-female team to ski coast-to-coast across Antarctica.

At a meeting of the All-Party Group, Mr Gray admitted: “There were many, including myself, who were sceptical that the ‘Ice Maidens’ would be able to complete a journey that has defeated so many others, especially since none of them had any experience of the polar regions before they started”.

“But I am the first to hold my hands up and say ‘I was wrong’. What the ‘Ice Maidens’ did is simply extraordinary, and their achievement really does stand as a testament to the incredible levels of endurance, mental determination, and teamwork that exists among women serving in the British Army and Army Reserve, and indeed across all our Armed Forces”. 

Expedition Ice Maiden was the brainchild of Major Nics Weatherill, an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, who was inspired to lead an all-women Antarctic expedition ten years ago. Together with Major Natalie Taylor, also of the Royal Army Medical Corps, they picked a six-strong team from more than 250 applicants from within the Army and Army Reserve, after a gruelling two year training and selection process.

The ‘Ice Maidens’ set off on their expedition on 20 November last year, and after first reaching the South Pole, completed their record-breaking feat, having covered more than 1,000 miles on skis, on 20 January, arriving days ahead of schedule, and without any significant injuries to report.

Throughout, the ‘Ice Maidens’ also gathered important scientific data to support medical and psychological research on women under endurance in extreme conditions. They now hope to inspire other women to find their own expeditionary spirit, both within the military and beyond.

2018 03 22 blue passportJames Gray MP has today written to Amber Rudd questioning the decision to award the contract for the new UK passport to a French manufacturer.

Mr Gray said “The UK Government have a responsibility to protect British jobs and promote innovative and pioneering British businesses, particularly during this uncertain period of exiting the EU."

"The British passport is a symbol of national pride and British identity. It is a cruel irony for the staff of previous contract holders De La Rue, who have a base in the neighbouring county of Somerset, that the new British passport will not be made by a British company."

"I hope that Ministers will reflect on the fact they have awarded one of the most prized government contracts to a French company when British firms are expressly prohibited from bidding to manufacture passports in those markets. It seems to me that this decision is ill-thought-out and at odds with the Government’s purported aims to champion British business at home and abroad. It sends a confused message and demonstrates to the public that it has its priorities wrong at a time of huge uncertainty for the country.”

“I was delighted that in a meeting with Colonel Ed Heal, Commandant of the Defence School of Electronic and Mechanical Engineering at MOD Lyneham, on Friday we had a wide ranging discussion about non-military activities on the base. Col Heal readily agreed to my suggestion that he should cancel the motorcar track days which were planned for this year and about which local people have expressed a great deal of concern. I was glad to be able to confirm to Col Heal that local people welcomed very many of the other activities which occur on the base, including Go-Kart racing which is much enjoyed by the young soldiers on the base and others. Activities such as police training will also make good use of the tarmac left over from RAF days.

“With some 800 local people employed on the base and considering the huge contribution which it makes to the local economy, I am delighted to have had this opportunity of cementing very close relations between local people and MOD Lyneham, (both REME and the Defence Technical Training College), in this way.  I know that local people will very much welcome Col Heal’s decision with regard to the motorcar track days.”