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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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.