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Denis Tunnicliffe on the ongoing success of NATO, 70 years after its creation

For more than 500 years, collective defence alliances have tended to last for around 15 years. On 4th April, the NATO celebrates its 70th anniversary – cementing itself as one of the most successful defence treaties in history. Peace and stability have been able to flourish over seven decades, and the collective security of the Alliance remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy. 

For Labour, it’s an extra special celebration – given that the leadership of Clement Attlee and his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin was so instrumental in setting up NATO in 1949. Bevin said that members: “shall act as custodians of peace and as determined opponents of aggression, and shall combine our great resources and use them to raise the standard of life for the masses of the people all over the world.”

Deterrent was, and remains, the purpose of the pact. It sent a message to potential adversaries that NATO’s members were not weak, divided nations but a united front, bound together in collective self-defence. To this day, such common cause is sort through peaceful resolution and collective responsibility for action. The original twelve members has grown to 29, and its missions around the world range from training soldiers in Afghanistan to detecting terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. 

While NATO members are encouraged to meet a spending guideline of at least 2% of GDP on defence, the UK barely scrapes over the line. Pensions have been added into the target, and the Ministry of Defence has said its Equipment Plan faces an affordability gap between £7 to £15bn. Treasury-driven cuts have also resulted in a recruitment free-fall as well as a decline of morale across our armed forces. This lack of investment and care for our forces, along with uncertainty over spending commitments, undermines the UK’s role in NATO. 

Today, the Alliance is adapting to new and resurgent threats. Russia’s recent actions in Crimea and Salisbury demonstrate its abhorrent disregard for democracy and human rights. Actions that have led to a renewed focus on the need to secure NATO’s eastern border, as well as the wider security of the Alliance area.

Technology is also opening up whole new dimensions for warfare. Cyber-attacks remain a huge concern but NATO is taking some welcome steps and last year agreed to set up a new and responsive Cyberspace Operations Centre. As the Alliance also strengthens such cooperation with the EU, it represents a key area where the UK must continue to help coordinate action post-Brexit.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will also be at the heart of most – if not all – future cutting-edge technologies in both the military and civilian worlds. Machine learning will enable new modes of warfare, including various forms of autonomous and semi-autonomous weaponry. And those investing early and aggressively may end up in a position of military supremacy. We must therefore, explore how NATO and the UN can work together to develop an international governance framework to provide oversight to military use of AI – including the ethical and moral implications. Only then will AI be viewed as a global public good.

On its 70th Anniversary, NATO’s success in maximising collective security is undisputed. Labour will ensure it remains the cornerstone of the UK’s defence policy, while adapting as necessary to the changing state of warfare and conflict resolution.

Lord Denis Tunnicliffe is Shadow Defence Minister in the House of Lords

Published 1st April 2019

Strength and stability

Denis Tunnicliffe on the ongoing success of NATO, 70 years after its creation


Anita Gale on tackling gender inequality in the workplace, politics and society

International Women's Day seeks to tip the scales that remain weighted towards men. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, with gender balance being essential to allow businesses to grow, leaders to govern, and communities to thrive.

But whether it is intimidation in public life, gender based violence or a no deal Brexit, a better balance can only be found by tackling these challenges head on.

Despite last year’s US midterms, when a record number of women ran for office and took their seats in the US Congress, the largest gender disparity remains with political empowerment. According to the UN, only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women. Demonstrating how this new wave of women have broken down barriers and perceptions, first term US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “women like me aren't supposed to run for office”.

Unfortunately, this belief continues to resonate widely, with intimidation being one of the barriers to participation. Women in politics face an extraordinary amount of abuse on and offline – often for speaking up, or simply because they are women. Amnesty International and Element AI surveyed millions of tweets received by 778 journalists and politicians from the UK and US throughout 2017 and found that 1.1million were abusive or problematic. Equivalent to one every 30 seconds.

Social media companies must do more to protect female users – especially those in elected office – by accepting responsibility for abusive content on their sites and the faster removal of such comments.

But sexism continues to manifest in more violent ways. Gender based violence remains a major public health issue. Rape and murder are used as weapons of war, and women fleeing conflict are left in extremely vulnerable situations. The development charity, International Rescue Committee, states that “girls living in crisis-affected communities are at increased risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence and exploitation, intimate partner violence and forced marriage.”

The UK must lead the global effort to protect and empower these women, but we must make sure this protection extends to the home. Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner, while funding cuts to women’s refuges leave many with no safe places to go.

Women’s Aid found that one in six referrals to a refuge were declined owing to a lack of space or capacity to support the survivor, and has said the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails to deliver enough money to address the recent decimation of services.

That legislation cannot come soon enough. Labour welcomes the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider the Bill. We want sustainable funding for refuges and specialist services, with migrant women given full and equal access. We are also committed to spending 0.7% of GDP on development to tackle inequality across the world.

Labour is determined to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit – something that would be catastrophic for equality in our country. The government’s own impact assessment revealed no deal could leave the UK economy up to 9% smaller, and the Women’s Budget Group said such a downturn would have a disproportionate impact on women. Businesses could go bust, unemployment could rise, and vital government services could be cut.

When money’s tight, women suffer the most.

Baroness Anita Gale is Shadow Equalities Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @BaronessGale

Published 6th March 2019


A balance for the better

Anita Gale on tackling gender inequality in the workplace, politics and society


Glenys Thornton on a Brexit-related Bill with huge implications for UK citizens’ healthcare

The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill begins its Lords Committee stage today. Small in size but wide in scope, the range of amendments tabled – from peers on all sides – reveals great concern about where this legislation could lead.

It is essential to ensure continuity for the UK citizens with EHIC cards that they can access free healthcare when living in or travelling within the EU and Switzerland, and for EU citizens doing the same here. Yet here we are, weeks away from Brexit and this vital issue remains unresolved. 

A deal would see reciprocal healthcare carry on for the two year transition period. Crashing out however, would have grave implications for thousands of UK pensioners living with long-term conditions in Spain, Cyprus and elsewhere in the EU who could find themselves paying for health care. Or alternatively, put considerable extra stress on the NHS as people return to the UK for treatment.

Some of our more important amendments, address just these issues. If we crash out, it seems unlikely that the necessary deals with 27 countries to provide reciprocity will be in place. One government Minister has admitted as much and recommended getting health insurance.

The government must do two things. First, publicise the changes and provide guidance to the public on the likely impact on their lives. Second, put a six month arrangement in place to reimburse our citizens for any healthcare costs incurred that would previously have been covered, until new agreements come into effect. We will be fighting hard for this basic protection for our citizens, wherever they live in the EU. 

There are also worrying concerns about the bill opening the door to healthcare negotiations across the rest of the world, via trade and foreign affairs discussions. While the new Health Minister in the Lords believes this is forward looking, almost everyone else in the Lords thinks it more urgent to sort out post-Brexit arrangements with the EU and not slip in new policy. And the legislation has now been subject to highly critical reports from both our Constitution and Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform (DPRR) committees.

The former has said the Bill should be limited to UK/EU reciprocity and EHIC matters, while the latter committee has raised concerns about powers conferred on the Secretary of State. It is rare to see the DPPR report that “Clause 2 has breath-taking scope. Indeed, the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider”, and add for good measure that these “can delegate functions to anyone anywhere”. Labour’s amendments will seek to reduce the scope of the bill in line with such concerns.

We will also be questioning other matters in the bill, including a loosely worded clause about the necessary use of patient data. The question arises about data protection for NHS patients who access health care in the EU provided by the private sector. We are raising this with the NHS Data Guardian. There are also very serious issues regarding arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic, not to mention the complete absence of any reference to costs and accountability. 

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @glenysthornton 

Published 19th February 2019

Sick notes

Glenys Thornton on a Brexit-related Bill with huge implications for UK citizens’ healthcare

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