North Wiltshire MP James Gray tabled an Early Day Motion yesterday to congratulate the safe and successful completion of ‘Expedition Ice Maiden’. The Ice Maiden team comprised six British women all serving in the British Army or Army Reserve, who became the first all-female team to ski across Antarctica using muscle power alone.

Mr Gray said “as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces, and as someone who has visited the South Pole, I have taken a keen interest in the Ice Maiden’s journey through one of the world’s most extreme and hostile environments. Their success stands as a testament to the incredible levels of physical endurance, mental determination and teamwork that exists among women serving in the British Army and Army Reserve.

The team should be incredibly proud of what they have accomplished.”

After 60 days, 15 hours and 46 minutes the Ice Maidens skied from the 80th into the 79th degree, thereby completing their phenomenal Antarctic crossing.

James Gray MP - Defence DebateNorth Wiltshire MP James Gray has called for defence spending to rise towards three per cent during last week’s defence debate in Parliament. Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Gray said:

“If we do not find a way of increasing our defence spending towards the 3% that many of us in the Chamber want, I fear that we will not be doing our duty. We will not be doing what our people send us here to do, and we will not be putting in place the correct way to defend our nation.”

Mr Gray also warned against any reduction in the current capabilities of the Armed Forces:

“If any such cuts were to take place - if HMS Bulwark were to go, for example, or if 1,000 people were to be cut from the Royal Marines - I want to make it plain that we would not go along with any such proposals from the Government.”

Finally, Mr Gray expressed his concerns about the current National Security Capability Review. Led by Mark Sedwill, National Security Adviser, the review is aimed at examining, across government, the policy and plans to deliver the National Security Strategy and to ensure that any investment in the required capabilities is efficient and effective. Defence is just one of thirteen individual strands considered. Mr Gray said:

“To have a national security review mixed in with a strategic defence review, and happening at a time that is not contingent with the national spending review, seems to be absolutely pointless and, indeed, substantially misleading.”

“It would seem perfectly logical and sensible, when carrying out a review, to start with the Foreign Office assessing the risk. The Cabinet Office should follow that by determining how much of that risk is to do with us—with policing or with cyber, for example. Those conclusions should then go to the Ministry of Defence, which would identify the threats to the nation and decide what to do about them. Subsequently, the Treasury should say, ‘Fine, that is what you want to do about the threat. Here is how we are going to find the money for it.’ ”

“I would like to see the defence part of the review separated out. It ought to be happening in the autumn of this year, at the same time as the Budget, in case we need more money to do what the Foreign Office says we ought to be doing.”

“I was delighted to welcome The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company to Parliament last night. Dauntless Gin is absolutely delicious and I strongly recommend it. The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company is already a great local success story but I am convinced it will soon be a national one”.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray was speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions Christmas reception in Westminster last night.

The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company Ltd, which produces Dauntless (a London Dry Gin) is run by a local Royal Wootton Bassett family, and aims to be one of the UK’s most popular premium gin brands. Twenty percent of profits go to two charities, Combat Stress and the Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

Bring Back Britannia

North Wiltshire MP James Gray has backed the campaign for a new royal yacht to project the UK's unique soft power and influence around the globe now that we are leaving the European Union.

Mr Gray said:

“Now is the time to consider how post-Brexit Britain projects herself on the world stage.”

“The view of many people around the country is that the Government should commission a new Royal Yacht Britannia. It would be designed and built in the UK to showcase post-Brexit Britain and bring trade to our shores.”

“That’s why I am pleased to support this campaign and urge the Government to ‘Bring Back Britannia’.”

The previous Royal Yacht - HMY Britannia - was controversially decommissioned by Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 1997 after more than 40 years in service.

HMY Britannia conducted 968 official visits and clocked up more than a million miles at sea. On her last deployment to the Far East commercial trade deals worth some £2.75bn were signed on board to the benefit of the UK.

Paid for by a new lottery along with other complementary sources of funding, there will be no call upon departmental budgets to pay for the vessel which is estimated to cost around £120m.

And in a letter organised by Craig Mackinlay MP and supported by 50 MPs, including Mr Gray, the MPs envisage both Government Ministers and the Royal Family alike could host diplomatic and commercial events on the new Royal Yacht to further raise Britain’s profile internationally and secure new trade opportunities.

South Thanet MP, Craig Mackinlay, commented:

“The new Royal Yacht must belong to the state so it has the benefit of diplomatic immunity when it visits international harbours around the globe. It has to fly the white ensign because it is crucial that it is crewed by our Royal Navy. And it has to have a strong connection with our royal family as that is the unique quality that will make its service to our nation succeed.

“To be achievable, we need to generate the money to build a new Royal Yacht. One way of doing this might be to establish a new national lottery to help pay for the new vessel and that is what I am urging the Government to introduce. And as there will be no call upon departmental budgets, we will be investigating other complementary sources of funding from business leaders who are supportive of the project.”

Following the incredible public support for Sir David Attenborough’s call to arms to back greater protections in our oceans during the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II, North Wiltshire MP James Gray took steps to press the Government to be unrelenting in its efforts to lead the world in marine conservation and establish a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas in all of the world’s oceans. 

Mr Gray told fellow MPs during his Westminster Hall debate on the Blue Belt Programme and Marine Protected Areas yesterday that: “The Government’s Blue Belt Programme is a fantastic opportunity for us to do what is right in in the waters around Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and our 14 Overseas Territories”.

The Government launched the Blue Belt Programme in 2016 with the aim of working with the UK’s Overseas Territories to create a network of Marine Protected Areas covering some two million square miles of marine environment. Already, Marine Protected Areas have been established around South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands, St Helena and Pitcairn. The Government has further committed to designate Marine Protected Areas around Ascension and Tristan da Cunha by 2020.  

Mr Gray also said: “The important point about Brexit is that it must not mean a lessening of any of the environmental standards in our oceans. Her Majesty’s Government must commit to ensuring that they are all higher than would have been the case had we remained a member of the EU”.