Mike's speech in full:
Good afternoon conference and thank you for your warm welcome!
It is said the first duty of Government is defence of the realm!
However, following years of political mismanagement; Britain’s armed forces have become a cash-starved and overstretched shadow of what they once represented.
In fact, the actual state of the UK’s armed forces is shocking!
All three branches of the armed forces have seen significant cuts to equipment, materials, supplies and defence programmes.
However, the real crisis in our armed forces today lays in the retention and recruitment of personnel!
In July this year, a report by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, found the armed forces to have skill shortages in over 100 critical trades.
but a skills shortage is unsurprising when you realise there are 8,200 regular posts unfilled.
According to the National Audit Office, the percentage of regulars, voluntarily leaving the armed forces has increased from 3.8% annually in March 2010, to 5.6% in December 2017.
In January 2018, the number of full-time British Army personnel stood at 81,660; which falls to 77,470 when operational readiness rules are applied.
However, recent estimates put the actual figure nearer to 60,000, once sickness, injury, and other personal issues are considered.
This situation is exacerbated when you examine the Government’s flagship policy of using reservists to fill in for the shortfalls in regular personnel; with just a 1.4% increase in reserve manpower in 2017, despite a shortfall of 3,000 'trained' reservists.
If the estimates are correct; that would give the UK, the smallest standing army for over a hundred years.
And the situation in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force is no better!
As of Jan 2018, the RN was 2,000 sailors short of its 31,000 personnel target.
In the RAF many posts remain unfilled despite a small increase in personnel numbers being allowed.
The armed forces personnel crisis has become so critical; the Public Account Committee stated that while the MoD has “managed to deliver defence operations by prioritising its commitments and placing additional demands on regulars;” the “approach is not sustainable in the long-term.”
Despite the critical skills shortage, there is “no coherent plan for closing the existing skill gaps and securing the new skills” our armed forces need.
Instead of removing the £440Million, 10-year recruitment contract with Capita – the MoD has decided to instead fudge the figures.
In 2016, the Government very quietly redefined what is classified as ‘trained’ personnel.
Traditionally, only troops who have passed phase 1, basic training, and phase 2, trade training, were classed as ‘fully trained.’
However, following the 2016 changes, troops with only ‘basic’ training are now classed as ‘trained.' All to make the MoD’s figures look better.
The fact is, they call it basic training for a reason, and in my opinion; the changes put undertrained personnel and those who rely on them, directly in harm’s way!
And all this at a time when the global security situation is deteriorating!
So, what is the future for Britain’s armed forces?
At best – based on current political spending trends – the future would mean further marginalisation, underinvestment and further loss of personnel.
But it’s the worst-case scenario that genuinely scares me!
Do we all remember Nick Clegg branding Nigel a “fantasist” for warning about the development of an EU Army?
It seems the only fantasist was Clegg himself!
If there is to be no EU army, why does the European Commission want to adopt ‘qualified majority voting’ for defence matters; removing each state’s right of veto against EU military action?
Why, in spite of Brexit, is the UK trying to carve out a role in the PESCO, the EU’s military integration project?
And why is ‘Treason’ May so resolute in her commitment to EU security and defence?
The EU often tries to obscure its intention through creeping integration and obscurely named programmes, which then grow into a fait accompli.
It would seem the approach to ‘defence union’ has not differed.
The convoluted way in which the EU is creating its army was recently summed by the former Brexit Minister, Steve Baker, when he said; “we are not talking about continuing UK-EU defence integration, because almost no one understands it.”
What we do know is that since Brexit, we have seen the creation of several EU military bodies to tackle integration, quick response, defence research and development; together with permanent co-operation; many in direct competition to NATO.
While information has been sparse in the area of Brexit’s impact on defence, May’s disastrous Chequers Plan does offer a few insights.
One of the most worrying proposals is for the UK to remain closely aligned with the EU’s defence policy; with the potential of staying in the European Defence Fund; participating in the EU’s new defence industrial programme, and placing the UK Armed Forces in the EU’s Military Force Catalogue.
This would mean the UK continuing to align with EU policies and directives; apply European Defence Agency rules, pay an annual subscription and continue to offer defence contracts to EU companies.
Rather than ‘taking back control’, we would actually be giving away even more of our sovereignty than ever before.
While few understand how the UK is being sucked into EU Defence Union, many will understand my message today.
UKIP stand opposed to any integration of the UK’s armed forces, and we must act to stop May’s madness before it’s too late!
The creation of an EU army is precisely the type of issue that energised UKIP into life 25 years ago!
During that time, we have fought tooth and nail to stop the creep towards making Britain one region of a United States of Europe.
We have successfully raised issues in the public consciousness that many in the Establishment would like to have seen pass-by unobserved.
We have awoken the British people to the dangers posed by further efforts for European integration and highlighted the injustices caused by policies already in place.
We even forced and won a referendum to remove ourselves from the European Union.
Despite what some think, Brexit is far from won, and the establishment will do everything they can to keep us tied to the EU as much as they can, for as long as they can.
This party – an organisation we all given sweat, blood and tears to help build and support – must decide on its true direction!
Are we a minority, single-issue party, hell-bent on self-destruction and following a policy agenda many average voters could not care less about?
Or, are we the broad political church we have always professed to be, with a full stable of innovative policies, that aim to tackle the many societal and structural ills we see today in our great country.
Do we act for many; for the disenfranchised; for the disillusioned, and for the country as a whole!
Or do we follow the agenda of the few, who will take this party down a dark path; ignoring the major issues of our time and destroy all we have achieved in the process!
Now is the time for you, the membership, to decide!