The Cyprus cash airdrop is just another military contingency plan

RAF air-lifted in one million Euros in cash.

A drop in salary took on a whole new meaning for members of the British Armed Forces deployed in Cyprus, when the RAF air-lifted in a million Euros in cash.

The emergency measures were designed to ensure troops don’t run out of cash if cash machines empty, as banks are closed until Thursday in the aftermath of a controversial plan for a one-off levy on savings, which has since been rejected by the Cypriot government.

Is it usual for British service personnel deployed abroad to be paid in local currency, and does the Ministry of Defence (MoD) regularly have to deal with the dramatic local effects of an increasingly destabilised global economy?

An MoD spokesperson said that the way soldiers are paid is up to them. Generally, for European deployments to permanent bases such as in Cyprus or Germany, personnel choose to have the majority of their wages paid into their regular UK bank account, with some “spending money” paid into local accounts in Euros.

In the case of mid-term operating bases, a unique local micro economy can spring up. At Camp Bastion, the pound can be exchanged at a favourable rate with the local currency the afghani, and Bastion shops and food outlets deal seamlessly with Euros, US dollars and pounds.

Locals are encouraged to set up shops and stalls in the camp to sell local craft mementoes and gifts, and are very keen to get their hands on dollars, the de facto universal currency. However, with the Danish military working closely with Afghanis to deliver training, the Euro is catching up in desirability.

For short-term operations like Libya with no in-country base, the MoD makes no local financial arrangements.

With the global economy struggling and the banking system of some countries teetering on the verge of collapse, does the MoD have a regular plan in place to ensure at least the military economy continues to thrive?

“Not really,” says the MoD spokesperson. “It’s the job of the MoD to react to a rapid change in any situation with a contingency plan, and the potential shortage of cash in Cyprus is just another example.”

This blog first appeared here.

Photograph: Getty Images

Berenice Baker is Defence Editor at Strategic Defence Intelligence.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.