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The government has no national plan for the defence of the UK or the mobilisation of its people and industry in a war despite renewed threats of conflict, Sky News has learnt.

With ministers warning that Britain is moving to a “pre-war world” amid mounting concerns about Russia, China and Iran, it can be revealed that officials have started to develop a cross-government “national defence plan”.

But any shift back to a Cold War-style, ready-for-war-footing would require political leaders to make defence a genuinely national effort once again – rather than something that is just delivered by the armed forces, according to interviews with multiple defence sources, former senior officers and academics.

They said such a move would need a lot more investment in defence and much better communication with the public about the need for everyone to play their part in strengthening UK resilience and deterring aggression.

“We have to have a national defence plan,” a senior defence source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It should involve what government arrangements would look like in the period before armed conflict and the transition to war.”

British soldiers attend the Winter Camp 23 military drills near Tapa, Estonia, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. The Winter Camp exercises are regular drills conducted by NATO's multinational battle group in Estonia led by the United Kingdom. This year troops from Estonia, France, Denmark, and the UK are undergoing two-week exercises with armor, infantry, engineers, and artillery. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
British soldiers during drills near Tapa, Estonia. Pic: AP

It can also be revealed:

• A two-day “war game” is set to take place next week, involving officials from the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office, Home Office and other departments, to talk through how the country would respond to an armed attack

• A paper is circulating in Whitehall that examines what can be learnt from an old but comprehensive system of plans called the Government War Book – now sitting in the National Archives – that once detailed how the UK would transition from peace to war

• Sources say lessons could also be drawn from how the UK mobilised its industrial base ahead of the Second World War when it created a network of “shadow factories” that vastly expanded production capacity for aircraft such as Spitfires

Pic: AS1 Amber Mayall RAF/PA Wire
Ministry of Defence undated handout photo of F-35B Lightning jets on the flight deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it heads to join the largest Nato exercise since the Cold War
An RAF F-35B Lightning jet. Pic: PA

Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, used a speech in January to raise the spectre of a “pre-war world”.

He also forecast that in five years’ time “we could be looking at multiple theatres involving Russia, China, Iran and North Korea”.

Given the warning signs, Sky News has decided to explore how prepared the UK government, its military and the entire nation are for the possibility of armed conflict.

We have also looked back at the last time Britain was in a pre-war world, in the five years before the Second World War that erupted in 1939, as well as how this country subsequently dealt with the possibility of World War 3, including nuclear attack, during the Cold War years.

In the first instalment of a series – called Prepared For War? – we visited the National Archives to view a Government War Book; travelled to an old nuclear bunker once part of a secret plan to support the nation in the event of nuclear war; and examined the legacy the World War 2 shadow factories, which built the weapons that helped defeat the Nazis.

Deborah Haynes war preparedness feature
Inside the nuclear bunker

‘The problem is, there is no plan’

Setting out the challenge, Keith Dear, a former regular Royal Air Force intelligence officer who worked as an adviser to the prime minister between 2020 and 2021, when Boris Johnson was in power, said he had been unable to find any kind of detailed plan for war while in government.

He said specific planning is required to explain “what we think could happen, and specifically who needs to do what, when, to respond effectively”.

In an exclusive article for Sky News, he wrote: “Such plans are essential not only to avoid scrambling disorder and early defeats, but also so that our adversaries, awed by our preparedness, are deterred from fighting in the first place.

“The problem is, there is no plan.”

Instead, defence sources said the UK today relies on its arsenal of nuclear weapons and membership of the NATO military alliance to deter threats.

“The government assumes deterrence will always work, but no one stops to ask: what if it doesn’t?” the senior defence source claimed.

Deborah Haynes war preparedness feature
Deborah Haynes examines a holographic map

The apparent lack of a national defence plan means the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – let alone the readiness of the civilian population and industrial base – are not designed to fight an enduring war of survival, the defence sources said.

“Our air defence [the ability to fend off incoming enemy missiles and drones] is dangerously thin and coastal defence is all-but non-existent,” the senior defence source said.

There is also a shortage of weapons and ammunition, while the size of all three services, both regular and reserve, is a fraction of the force that was kept at a high level of readiness during the Cold War in case of World War Three.

General Sir Richard Barrons, a former top commander, said he raised the idea inside government just over a decade ago about the need to rebuild national defence and resilience because of a growing threat from Moscow.

But “the implications of thinking about the revitalisation of a risk from Russia were unpalatable and expensive and denial – frankly – was cheaper”, he said.

Deborah Haynes war preparedness feature - barrons
General Sir Richard Barrons speaks to Deborah Haynes

War books

In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, NATO refreshed its war plans for defending the whole of the now 32-nation alliance.

But the UK used to have its own corresponding set of national plans – set out in the Government War Book – that would trigger certain internal measures if the alliance decided to transition from peace to war.

haynes war preparedness feature
Sky News looked at a preview war book

A 1976 copy of the war book – a large bundle of hand-typed pages, bound together by string – offered a sense of how seriously the UK once took national defence planning.

Stored at the National Archives in Kew, west London, the war book contained detailed lists and signposted the way to complementary plans about how to mobilise not just the military but also civilians and industry in a crisis as well as shutting schools, clearing hospitals, rationing food and even storing national treasures.

haynes war preparedness feature
The war book contains plans for different eventualities

Conceived around the end of the First World War, the government’s collection of top secret, regularly rehearsed and updated war books ensured by the height of the Cold War the UK was one of the best prepared nations in the world – and most resilient.

That all changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union as Western governments no longer felt the existential threat of global war.

By the early 2000s, the entire UK war book system, which cost a lot to maintain, was quietly shelved as the then government’s focus switched to the threat from Islamist terrorism and fighting foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It means most senior officials in today’s Whitehall will barely have any professional memory of how the state functioned during the Cold War years, let alone the two world wars.

Jonathan Boff, a professor of military history at Birmingham University, said the UK should think about producing a modern-day version of the war books.

“Some of that kind of thinking – the thinking that takes you from: we don’t need to worry about any of that to: actually if we did want to worry about that, how might we do it? – I think that’s really important,” he said.

HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy leads fifteen ship formation as jets fly past at sea for Exercise Nordic Response 24.
HMS Prince of Wales leads a formation of 15 ships. Pic: MOD/AP

Risk register and intelligence framework

Asked about the allegation that the UK has no national plan for the outbreak of war, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the country has “robust plans in place for a range of potential emergencies and scenarios with plans and supporting arrangements developed, refined and tested over many years”.

This includes the Civil Contingencies Act, a government resilience framework, a National Risk Register and a strengthening of ties with a network of local resilience forums across the country that are tasked with responding to emergencies. There is also a new directorate in the Cabinet Office tasked with further enhancing resilience.

Pic: AS1 Amber Mayall RAF/PA Wire 
Ministry of Defence undated handout photo of pilots of  F-35B Lightning jets on the flight deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it heads to join the largest Nato exercise since the Cold War.
Pilots of RAF F-35B Lightning jets. Pic: PA

“As part of broad emergency response capabilities, all local resilience forums have plans in place to respond to a range of scenarios,” the spokesperson said.

“The government continues to review the risk landscape, including threats to the UK from overseas.”

Yet a flick through the National Risk Register offers a lot more information on floods, pandemics, terrorism and cyber attacks than what to do in the event of war.

A number of local resilience forums approached by Sky News also confirmed that they do not have specific war plans or planning for a nuclear strike – something that would have been a top priority for local governments during the Cold War.

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Shadow factories

The funding priorities for many NATO allies, including the UK, changed following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, with investment switching away from defence to areas such as health and social services – more popular in peacetime.

This has started to be reversed following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but defence sources said it must happen with much greater urgency – especially as Russia is on a war footing and has even threatened the use of nuclear weapons.

Back in 1935, when war with Adolf Hitler’s Germany was looming, the UK began rapidly growing its manufacturing base to build more aircraft, converting automotive plants to produce Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster bombers and other kit.

Deborah Haynes war preparedness feature
‘Shadow factories’ were set up in the 1930s

A programme, called the “shadow scheme”, under the then Air Ministry, saw the construction of “shadow factories” next to existing automotive-turned-aircraft plants.

But the UK’s manufacturing landscape has consolidated in recent years, while many weapons are imported, making it harder to revive sovereign industrial capacity at speed.

Keith Dear, the former Downing Street adviser, pointed at the difficulties Britain has had increasing the production of artillery shells and other ammunition to support Ukraine.

“Our inability to supply anything like enough munitions or weapons to Ukraine, shows also how hollowed out we have become by buying and building armed forces to no coherent war-fighting plan,” he wrote. “Weapons without ammunition are useless.”

Pic: UK Ministry of Defence/MoD
The Royal Navy's Merlin helicopter from 820 Naval Air Squadron, fires flares from HMS Prince of Wales, while embarked for NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024, at an undisclosed location in this handout image released on February 28, 2024. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
A Royal Navy Merlin helicopter fires flares during a NATO exercise. Pic: Reuters

‘We aren’t ready – but don’t tell Putin’

Southampton is a reminder of the UK’s former wartime resilience.

The home of the Spitfire, production lines were dispersed around the city after German bombers attacked its two main aircraft factories early on in the Second World War.

Today, Alan Matlock, a local man, heads a group called the Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust that raises awareness about the historic bravery of Southampton’s residents.

“The frontline did run through these factories,” he said. “And there were a large number [of people] who paid the ultimate price.”

Vera Saxby, who turns 100 in August, decided to do secretarial work for a company that made parts for Spitfires during the war after a German bomb exploded in her garden.

“We really thought we were doing something good,” she said.

Deborah Haynes war preparedness feature
Former Spitfire worker Vera Saxby

However, resting in an armchair in her house in a Southampton suburb, Mrs Saxby said she did not think Britain was very resilient anymore – pointing in particular to the reduction in heavy industry, such as steel works and car plants that were so vital during the last war.

Asked if it was worrying, Mrs Saxby said: “Well it is but I’m too old to worry anymore… I can’t see how we would defend ourselves – but don’t tell Putin that.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “We have a range of plans in place to secure and defend the country, which are reviewed and adapted in response to international security developments… These plans will be integrated as part of our contribution to ongoing work to develop a cross-government National Defence Plan, which will further enhance our preparedness and strengthen our deterrence for the future.”

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Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election




Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election

Rishi Sunak is undertaking a week-long blitz of activity and announcements at home and abroad in a bid to convince a sceptical party he has the ideas and drive to continue as prime minister.

After weeks of criticism about an empty legislative agenda, an inability to set the agenda, and divisions in the Tory Party dominating the headlines, this week “action man” Mr Sunak will seek to take back control with news conferences, interviews and announcements.

On the Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, we discuss how Mr Sunak is aware of a possible challenge to his position with a vote of no confidence after the local and mayoral elections on 2 May.

He is undertaking a burst of activity to be able to point to his MPs to a rich agenda both this side of a general election and beyond.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts 👈

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‘Patience is thin’ over Rwanda bill delays

On Monday, the PM will hold a news conference to champion the likely passage into law of the emergency Rwanda legislation first announced last year.

Then on Tuesday, he will embark on a two-day European trip, beginning in Warsaw, with a major announcement planned as part of the trip.

Some sources expect the announcement to be defence-related, possibly around jointly training troops and sharing equipment with Poland and the West Balkans.

This is Mr Sunak’s first major trip on to the world stage in months, apart from a brief visit to Ukraine.

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It follows his first set-piece speech outside the Commons last Friday about welfare reform.

Many of the ideas there were designed for the manifesto and to be implemented in the next parliament in the unlikely event the Tories win.

The looming spectre of a challenge has led to some conversations about holding the election over the summer, with the starting gun fired possibly even announced before the local elections.

This remains unlikely, however, since it would be possible for the opposition to present this as a move prompted by panic, and the Tories remain around 20 points behind in the polls.

Therefore appealing to his party to allow him to stay in the job, by showing a blizzard of action and announcements, is a priority for Mr Sunak amid continued speculation about his party’s unhappiness.

Some 57 Tory MPs voted against his flagship smoking ban policy last week, with a further more than 100 abstaining, in a sign of his lack of grip on the party.

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The Week… Rishi tries to save his skin




The Week... Rishi tries to save his skin

Two of Westminster’s best-connected journalists, Sky News’s Sam Coates and Politico’s Jack Blanchard, guide you through their top predictions for the next seven days in British politics.

This week, they react to MP Mark Menzies’ resignation from the Conservative Party and look at what it might mean for the next election.

Also this week, Rishi Sunak is packing his bags for Europe. Jack and Sam discuss what’s on the trip’s agenda, including highly anticipated announcements on the defence of Ukraine, as well as the UK’s wider defence and warfare strategy.

Mr Sunak’s Rwanda plan could finally pass through parliament too, more than five months after he unveiled the emergency laws. Jack and Sam reveal the final stage will be far from straightforward though, with MPs told to expect a long night in the Commons.

Plus, Angela Rayner is standing in for Keir Starmer at PMQs this week, the first time she’s been in the Commons since police announced they were investigating her. Jack and Sam discuss how she’ll deal with the mounting pressure.

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Email with your thoughts and rate how their predictions play out: or

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Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won’t stand at next election




Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won't stand at next election

An MP facing allegations of misusing campaign funds has quit the Conservative Party and says he won’t stand at the next general election.

Claims surfaced earlier this week in The Times that Mark Menzies had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had reportedly locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

The backbench MP for Fylde in Lancashire disputed the allegations but was suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party while an investigation took place.

In a statement, Mr Menzies said: “It has been an enormous privilege representing the people of Fylde since 2010, but due to the pressures on myself and my elderly mother, I have decided to resign from the Conservative Party and will not stand at the forthcoming general election.

“This has been a very difficult week for me and I request that my family’s privacy is respected.”

Lancashire Police said it was reviewing “information” about Mr Menzies after Labour asked for an investigation.

Speaking to Sky News’ Electoral Dysfunction podcast, former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had called the latest scandal and allegations against Mr Menzies “jaw-dropping”.

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The claims surrounding Mr Menzies came to light after the outgoing MP’s former campaign manager, Katie Fieldhouse, spoke to the Times, prompting the Conservative Party to launch its own internal investigation into whether there had been a misuses of its funds.

She claimed the Conservative Party was aware the allegations about Mr Menzies were potentially criminal, alleging that the party’s chief of staff “told me that when they first took over the investigation [from the Whips’ Office] they had consulted solicitors”.

She added: “He told me on the phone, ‘the solicitor said it is fraud but you are not duty-bound to report it because it’s not Conservative Party money’.”

On Sunday a Conservative Party spokesperson said its investigation was now complete and had found there had not been a misuse of funds – but that it had identified a “pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs”.

“The money in question that was sent to Mark Menzies MP was signed off by the two signatories of Fylde Westminster Group,” the spokesperson said.

“This body sits outside of the remit of both the Conservative Party and Fylde Conservative Association. Therefore we cannot conclude that there has been a misuse of Conservative Party funds.

“However, we do believe that there has been a pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs and individuals looking after donations to local campaign funds which lie outside the direct jurisdiction of the Conservative Party.

“We will therefore be commencing with retraining individuals across the party on how to manage these accounts which fall outside of the remit of the Conservative Party and are introducing a whistleblowing helpline.”

They continued: “Furthermore, whilst outside of the initial scope of this investigation, there has also been a recommendation that the actions of the MP in question have also potentially breached the Nolan principals of public life.”

“This is due to the nature of the allegations made, but also the repetitive nature of these separate allegations. These will be reviewed by the Conservative Party’s member governance team.

“We will of course share any information with the police if they believe it would be helpful to any investigation they decide to undertake.

“Suggestions the party has not been seriously examining this matter are demonstrably false as we have worked to protect the identities of all those involved whilst the facts could be established.”

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