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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.

Officials are now starting to develop a cross-government “national defence plan”, it can be revealed.

Dr Keith Dear, a former RAF intelligence officer and former adviser on national security, science and technology to the prime minister, argues below that it is reasonable for the public to assume there are detailed plans for any anticipated conflicts.

Keith Dear
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Keith Dear

The US secretary of state warns we are “moving from a post-war to a pre-war world” and that “in five years’ time we could be looking at multiple theatres involving Russia, China, Iran and North Korea”.

The chief of the general staff, General Sir Patrick Sanders tell us that we are the “pre-war generation”.

The public might reasonably expect, therefore, that there are detailed plans, regularly refreshed, which would ensure we are prepared in advance for these anticipated conflicts, expected to be dramatically larger and more deadly than anything fought in recent memory – wars we might lose.

Surely, government departments, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the intelligence agencies and our armed forces have a plan to know what to do when it starts, are structured according to the requirements, and can respond quickly?

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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.

We used to have one. Maintained by the government until the early 2000s, the central Government War Book sensibly detailed plans for the continuity of government in the event of war and a possible nuclear exchange.

It was needed so those of us who survived didn’t awake to anarchy.

The book also contained essential plans for mobilising the country in response to the imminent threat and outbreak of conventional non-nuclear war.

Pic: National Archives
Image:
Pic: National Archives

To this central Government War Book, a whole series of subordinate war books were developed and maintained by all departments – most obviously the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and Foreign Office – but even the BBC had a War Book plan to sustain broadcast communications to an anxious public.

These were not abstract and vague, but planned against the specific, anticipatable wars we might face.

Today, there are no such plans.

The Government War Book was developed by the first modern pre-war generation – those living in the years preceding 1918 – under the leadership of ex-Royal Marine and first cabinet secretary Maurice Hankey.

The War Book was interdepartmental, and detailed what needed to be done, where, and by whom, both in preparing for war should we reach the “precautionary stage”, and upon its outbreak the “war stage”.

A copy of the Ministry of Defence’s 1963 War Book in the National Archives shows it to be detailed, and comprehensive, referencing multiple tightly coordinated, supporting plans across the government and beyond.

In 1935, the last pre-war generation also worried war might come in five years. Consequently, our government then began to refresh the War Book in earnest.

Concurrently in 1935, the UK began building its military, and military-industrial preparedness.

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For example, Lord Weir, the Scottish industrialist, was appointed to oversee a plan he had earlier proposed: building “shadow factories” adjacent to automotive factories, ready to manufacture aircraft at scale when war broke out.

The government thought deeper too, considering the need to be able to manufacture the machine tools on which factories would themselves depend, and those that could automate elements of manufacturing to speed up the rearmament effort and free up people for other tasks in the war effort, investing public funds accordingly.

The preparation was such that, after some dithering, on 23 August 1939, the government began to implement the pre-war “precautionary stage” of the plan.

Within a week, by 31 August, almost all the precautionary stage measures had been actioned. The War stage was actioned with the declaration of war a day later.

Today’s pre-war generation has had two warnings: first from COVID, and then from Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine.

The government’s response to the pandemic, where there was no plan worthy of the name, and mostly chaos for months, allows us to imagine what it would be like if war were to come without a plan to mobilise for it and to fight it.

Similarly, 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. Weapons without ammunition are useless. And we can’t know if we have the right weapons, either.

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If the secretary of state’s warnings of war sound alarmist, consider this: the director of the CIA suggests China seeks to be ready for an invasion of Taiwan from 2027.

The chair of the US House Select Committee says that 2027 may be the end, not the beginning of the window for when an attack on Taiwan is most likely.

A leaked internal memo suggests at least one four-star general in the US Air Force expects a war with China in 2025. In Europe, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas believes that Russia may threaten NATO‘s borders within three years.

Sweden’s civil defence minister and commander-in-chief warns Sweden must prepare for war now.

Even in what was until recently a deeply pacifist Japan, over 86% of citizens polled believe their country may have to go to war, while their government has doubled its defence budget.

The government would say there is a plan. Whitehall lists resilience frameworks, alert systems, risk registers and regular meetings.

What these things have in common is none of them amount to anything Hankey, or any reasonable observer, would regard as a plan – explaining what we think could happen, and specifically who needs to do what, when, to respond effectively.

The long disaggregated, disconnected nature of the various government artefacts speak of their own weakness, with commitments to what we will have done by 2030 and beyond. Not a plan for how to respond if X or Y happened tomorrow.

If we are five years from war, it is worth contemplating Lord Weir’s question, posed to the last pre-war generation in 1935: “Are we doing all we ought to anticipate by proper planning and arrangement the grave delays which were the feature of our almost fatal unpreparedness in 1914?”

Today, there is no plan. It is hard to imagine how we could be doing less.

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Rishi Sunak pledges to remove benefits for people not taking jobs after 12 months

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Rishi Sunak pledges to remove benefits for people not taking jobs after 12 months

People who are fit to work but do not accept job offers will have their benefits taken away after 12 months, the prime minister has pledged.

Outlining his plans to reform the welfare system if the Conservatives win the next general election, Rishi Sunak said “unemployment support should be a safety net, never a choice” as he promised to “make sure that hard work is always rewarded”.

Politics live: ‘Moral mission’ to end ‘sicknote culture’, says Sunak

Mr Sunak said his government would be “more ambitious about helping people back to work and more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life” by introducing a raft of measures in the next parliament. They include:

• Removing benefits after 12 months for those deemed fit for work but who do not comply with conditions set by their work coach – such as accepting a job offer

• Tightening the work capability assessment so those with less severe conditions will be expected to seek employment

• A review of the fit note system to focus on what someone can do, to be carried out by independent assessors rather than GPs

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• Changes to the rules so someone working less than half of a full-time week will have to look for more work

• A consultation on PIP to look at eligibility changes and targeted support – such as offering talking therapies instead of cash payments

• The introduction of a new fraud bill to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrests.

He insisted the changes were not about making the benefits system “less generous”, adding: “I’m not prepared to balance the books on the backs of the most vulnerable.

“Instead, the critical questions are about eligibility, about who should be entitled to support and what kind of supports best matches their needs.”

But Labour said it was the Tories’ handling of the NHS that had left people “locked out” of work, and a disabled charity called the measures “dangerous”.

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The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows 9.4 million people aged between 16 and 64 were “economically inactive”, with over 2.8 million citing long-term sickness as the reason.

Mr Sunak said 850,000 of them had been signed off since the COVID pandemic and half of those on long-term sickness said they had depression, with the biggest growth area being young people.

He also claimed the total being spent on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition had increased by almost two-thirds since the pandemic to £69bn – more than the entire budget for schools or policing.

“I will never dismiss or downplay the illnesses people have,” said the prime minister. “Anyone who has suffered mental ill health or had family and friends who have know these conditions are real and they matter.

“But just as it would be wrong to dismiss this growing trend, so it would be wrong to merely sit back and accept it because it’s too hard, too controversial, or for fear of causing offence.”

Rishi Sunak during his speech welfare reform.
Pic: PA
Image:
Rishi Sunak during his speech on welfare reform. Pic: PA

The prime minister said he knew critics would accuse him of “lacking compassion”, but he insisted “the exact opposite is true”, adding: “There is nothing compassionate about leaving a generation of young people to sit in the dark before a flickering screen, watching as their dreams slip further from reach every passing day.

“And there is nothing fair about expecting taxpayers to support those who could work but choose not to.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We can change. We must change.”

But Labour said the “root cause of economic activity” was down to the Tories’ failure on the health service, with record NHS waiting lists hitting people’s ability to get back in the workplace.

Acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern said: “After 14 years of Tory misery, Rishi Sunak has set out his failed government’s appalling record for Britain: a record number of people locked out of work due to long-term sickness and an unsustainable spiralling benefits bill.

“Rather than a proper plan to get Britain working, all we heard today were sweeping questions and reheated proposals without any concrete answers.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called it “a desperate speech from a prime minister mired in sleaze and scandal”, adding: “Rishi Sunak is attempting to blame the British people for his own government’s failures on the economy and the NHS and it simply won’t wash.”

Meanwhile, disability charity Scope said the measures were a “full-on assault on disabled people”, adding they were “dangerous and risk leaving disabled people destitute”.

James Taylor, director of strategy at the charity, said calls were already “pouring in” to their helpline with people concerned about the impact on them, adding: “Sanctions and ending claims will only heap more misery on people at the sharp end of our cost of living crisis.”

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Schoolboy ‘tried to beat sleeping students to death with a hammer’, court told

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Schoolboy 'tried to beat sleeping students to death with a hammer', court told

A public schoolboy was “on a mission” to protect himself from a “zombie apocalypse” when he tried to kill two sleeping students by attacking them with a claw hammer, a court has been told.

The 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is also accused of repeatedly striking a teacher in the skull with a hammer after attacking the boys at Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon.

The teenager was 16 when the attacks took place and claims he was sleepwalking at the time.

The schoolboy was wearing just his boxer shorts and had armed himself with four claw hammers and waited for the boys to fall asleep before allegedly attacking them, Exeter Crown Court heard.

James Dawes KC, prosecuting, said the two boys were in cabin-style beds in one of the mixed school’s boarding houses when the defendant climbed up and hit them with at least one hammer shortly before 1am on 9 June last year.

“The defendant was awake, and he decided to put into action a plan that he had been fermenting in his head for some time,” Mr Dawes said.

“And that plan was to kill the two boys, and he decided to do it whilst they slept in their own beds, and he decided to do it with a hammer.

‘He smashed a hammer into their heads as they slept’

Mr Dawes added: “The defendant was in possession of four claw hammers – a heavy hammer with a flat striking side and two-pronged claw at the back.

“He had four of them and he selected more than one hammer and he quietly climbed up into the top of the first cabin bed.

“The boys are asleep, and they had both had their heads on pillows, and then he smashed a hammer or hammers into their heads as they slept, multiple times.

“He also hit arms and backs. He didn’t just use the flat end of the hammer – he used the claw end as well to strike these boys.

“These blows smashed their skulls.”

Henry Roffe-Silvester, a teacher who was asleep in his own quarters, was awoken by noises coming from the boarding house and went to investigate, the court heard.

When he entered the bedroom where the attack had happened, he saw a silhouetted figure standing in the room who turned towards him and repeatedly struck him over the head with a hammer.

Another student heard Mr Roffe-Silvester’s shouts and swearing as he fled the bedroom and dialled 999 – believing there was an intruder.

“Mr Roffe-Silvester retreated down the corridor, with the defendant attacking him again and again with the hammer around his face and head,” Mr Dawes said.

“He was shouting at the defendant to stop. In total there were six impacts to his head.

“He said the defendant was expressionless, he was neutral and unsettling in his expression and appearance.

“Mr Roffe-Silvester said he thought the defendant appeared to be ‘on a mission’ and afterwards his face and body relaxed, and he was calm and slumped on his feet, squatting against the wall.”

Another student was told to “keep an eye” on the defendant in the matron’s office, Mr Dawes said.

“The defendant told him he was feeling quite stressed about things before the incident with school tests and owed some money to a girl,” he said.

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Blundell's school, Tiverton, Devon
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A police cordon was put in place at the school after the attacks

Mr Dawes said the defendant told the student he had fallen asleep after watching a movie and then carried out the attack.

The prosecutor suggested this was a lie because there was evidence that the boy was using his iPad until moments before the alleged assaults.

“The student tried to calm the defendant down and asked him again what had happened, and the defendant said to the student he was watching horror movies and he had weapons to prepare for the zombie apocalypse and to protect himself,” Mr Dawes said.

One student heard the defendant say: “I am sorry, I was dreaming.”

And another told police the teenager said: “I am going to prison, I was sleepwalking.”

‘It was like a scene from a horror film’

Paramedics who arrived at the school described the scene they found, with one saying the bedroom was “the worst scene he had ever encountered in 20 years in emergency care”.

A colleague said: “I have served in Iraq and had never seen such a scene of carnage, with blood over the desks, over the walls and the beds.”

Another said: “It was like a scene from a horror film. The boys were making a deal of noise and it was clear to him they were fighting for their lives.”

The defendant denies three charges of attempted murder.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

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Masked gunman who shot at car on busy London street in ‘gang dispute’ convicted

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Masked gunman who shot at car on busy London street in 'gang dispute' convicted

A masked gunman who shot at a car on a busy north London street in a “gang dispute” has been convicted.

Ricardo Anderson, 21, was found guilty of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of ammunition with intent to endanger life, and attempted grievous bodily harm.

He opened fire on a vehicle along Park Lane in Tottenham on 27 May last year.

Police said the incident was part of a “dispute involving rival gangs in the area”.

Ricardo Anderson, 21. Pic: Met Police
Image:
Ricardo Anderson. Pic: Met Police

CCTV captured the moment the blue VW Golf drove down the road, before coming to a stop in the middle of the street.

Anderson was seen on camera pulling a gun from his waistband and firing “wildly” towards the car.

The Metropolitan Police said that an occupant of the vehicle also had a gun and tried to fire back, but the weapon jammed.

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Members of the public were left fleeing and sheltering in nearby shops, or by cars, following the attack around 8pm.

The targeted vehicle sped off and Anderson fled the scene on foot.

Ricardo Anderson firing on the passing vehicle. Pic: Met Police
Image:
Pic: Met Police

During a police investigation, officers discovered that a group had congregated in the area earlier to film a music video and one member had been wearing a distinctive blue North Face tracksuit, black trainers, and a balaclava.

CCTV footage allowed police to identify the individual as Anderson, and confirm that he went on to fire at the vehicle.

Anderson was arrested on 31 May last year, and then charged on 1 June.

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The vehicle that Anderson fired at along the busy London street. Pic: Met Police
Image:
The vehicle that Anderson fired at. Pic: Met Police

After being convicted at the Central Criminal Court on 10 April, he is now set to be sentenced on 22 May.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Rhiain John said: “This incident took place in a busy street, on a warm summer’s evening where people were out and shops were open.

“Terrified onlookers including children sought refuge in shops and scrambled for safety behind parked cars.

“Ricardo Anderson had absolutely no concern for them at all. But for sheer luck this could have been a murder investigation.

“From our enquiries we established the incident was part of an ongoing dispute involving rival gangs in the area.”

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The vehicle was later found to be stolen, and despite extensive enquiries its occupants remain unidentified.

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