by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 21
October 2022
Off grid
17:30

Rishi’s right: Britain needs to rule beneath the waves

The Tory MP warned years ago about Britain's underwater vulnerabilities
by Aris Roussinos

Back in 2017, the little-known backbench MP Rishi Sunak wrote an interesting paper for Policy Exchange, warning of the vulnerability to Russian sabotage of Britain’s vital undersea infrastructure, from communications data cable to oil and gas pipelines. As he cautioned: 

A successful large-scale attack upon UK undersea cable infrastructure, whether at sea or on land, is an existential threat to our security. The next Strategic Defence Review should specifically consider the risks to Britain’s security from attacks on its undersea cable infrastructure and ensure steps are being taken to mitigate this risk and that our maritime assets are sufficient to the task.
- Rishi Sunak


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In the event, the strategy paper which accompanied the 2021 Integrated Review promised “a Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance capability, improving our ability to protect our underwater critical national infrastructure and improving our ability to detect threats in the North Atlantic.” What this actually means, it turns out, is the doubling of Britain’s newly-planned Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship fleet from one to two vessels, announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier this month.

It’s a start, but whether it’s quite enough is another question. For one thing, our western neighbour Ireland has been curiously lax in defending its lucrative position as an Atlantic data hub for American internet giants, with Sinn Fein defence spokesman John Brady warning: “Some three quarters of all cables in the northern hemisphere pass through Irish waters and 97% of global communications including business operations, financial transactions and internet traffic are carried through these cables”. Yet Ireland is “the Achilles’ heel in the security of these critical data cables” as the run-down, understaffed Irish Navy is simply incapable of ensuring their safety. Like its airspace, Ireland’s undersea territory may also soon have to come under British effective guardianship, even if it’s politically awkward for Irish leaders to admit to it.

Thursday’s communications outage in the Shetlands Islands, apparently the accidental handiwork of a British fishing trawler, has a wider significance. Such events highlight an important point at a time when awareness of the vulnerability of our infrastructure is at an all-time high. It shows quite how much of our day-to-day existence depends on the security of a very few, fragile physical objects in places where we have limited oversight. The increasing penetration of British and Irish waters by Russian spy ships, carrying submarine vehicles explicitly designed to monitor and sever undersea cables, is rightly a cause for alarm.

While the Economist is keen to reassure us that there’s sufficient slack capacity to make up for the loss of a cable here and there, it’s worth thinking this through carefully. Last year’s Commons Defence Committee report on the future of the Royal Navy highlighted extreme expert scepticism of the value of Britain’s headline-grabbing commitment to an “Indo-Pacific tilt”. One witness warned it was “a distraction and costly prestige exercise that will have no significant impact, apart from a fleeting appreciation” from America.

Should Sunak win the premiership next week, there’s an easy, cost-cutting win for him here. In his paper five years ago, our possible next PM urged the establishment about special navy-monitored “Cable Protection Zones” around undersea infrastructure. Further, he suggested that the cables’ owners like Google and Facebook should be required to pay for sonar sensors to alert us to nefarious activity on the seafloor. 

Instead of wasting money on occasionally sailing our large and vulnerable aircraft carriers in China’s general direction, Sunak should insist that the Royal Navy refocus itself on the security of the North Atlantic approaches to the UK and Ireland, and the critical infrastructure beneath the waves.

Five years ago, the Yorkshire MP was ahead of the curve in warning about the threats to Britain’s undersea lifelines: if he becomes PM he can cut costs and keep us safe at the same time. All he needs to do is ditch one of Boris’s biggest and riskiest white elephants.

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Geoffrey Hicking
Geoffrey Hicking
1 month ago

Instead of wasting money on occasionally sailing our large and vulnerable aircraft carriers in China’s general direction, Sunak should insist that the Royal Navy refocus itself on the security of the North Atlantic approaches to the UK and Ireland, and the critical infrastructure beneath the waves.”

Many of our data cables can be found in the Straits of Malacca.

Our SSNs are built to make it to the East to protect those very pieces of infrastructure.

I wish the supposed “informed” commentators would drop the old, tired, “stay close to home and be sensible” commentary. and actually understand WHY our defence budget is spent the way it is. We must be global or we might as well give up on even the North Atlantic.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago

Today as I am sure you know is Trafalgar Day, yet still Sinbad & Co paddle across the Channel on Lilos, unimpeded. What would Cornwallis, Nelson, Grey & Co say about that?

R S
R S
1 month ago

Why do you care about the channel crossings? Genuine question. Do you care for these people’s safety? Your tone suggests you don’t. And I don’t mean why is illegal immigration a problem but specifically why do you care so much about the crossings (actually one of the main reasons channel crossings have gone up is because many of the other illegal routes in have been effectively closed down)

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

No I do NOT care about “these peoples safety”. They are engaging in an illegal act, of their own volition, and deserve no sympathy whatsoever.
My great children will curse us for this dereliction of duty.
Obviously we know that many more ‘illegals’ arrive by air, but somehow the Channel is more emotive is it not?
After all we kept Philip II out and Louis XIV, XV, & XVI, the Corsican pygmy, and perhaps even Adolph, so why should we indulge Sinbad & Co?

R S
R S
1 month ago

Ok so it’s the cost to UK tax payers and the availability of public services that are primary issues? I can understand that. I pay far too much tax and am very unsatisfied with public services. But the impact of illegal migration on those issues is utterly negligible compared with, say, the ridiculous amount of public money wasted on covid vaccines and lockdowns, the efficacy of both were not even close to justifying the cost. Given your concern for our public funds and public services, did lockdown and vaccine drives make you as angry? Were you advocating that the vulnerable shelter or take responsibility for their own sheltering? Again, genuinely curious.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

It’s not just the immediate effects. What we are seeing in mainland Europe three generations down on is that the children of these immigrants are less willing to integrate than their grandparents. Eventually, when critical mass is achieved you get societal schisms like what we’re now seeing in the US where people are dividing themselves along racial or ethnic lines. This was one of the fundamental reasons for the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire over a hundred years ago and one which eventually led to a world war.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

To be fair had the Kaiser won, as he so very nearly did ,the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have remained intact.
However you are perfectly correct about the pernicious influence of deranged nationalism.

Last edited 1 month ago by stanhopecharles344
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

Cost has nothing to do with it. It’s the ‘ticking bomb’ of so called ‘diversity’ which is bound to “end in tears” for my g/grandchildren, if not sooner.

R S
R S
1 month ago

That is definitely a risk and I agree, a lot of the narrative around diversity is BS. And immigration is very high comparative to pre-1990s levels. But what’s the alternative? 1/3 of our population are pensioners, accounting for 4/5 of public spending (excluding capital investment). And those figures are increasing. Without immigration, there simply won’t be a country at all for our g/grandchildren.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

We shall have to increase the breeding rate of WASPS, by tax incentives if necessary.
It seemed to work for Augustus when he tried something similar.

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

Without immigration, there simply won’t be a country at all for our g/grandchildren.

And with mass immigration? There will be a country. Your g/grandchildren will be outvoted. Your g/granddaughter will have to dress modestly if she is to walk past the Morality Police.

Rick Hart
Rick Hart
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

Then perhaps we need to adopt the more traditional role models, as these people do who come to theses shores. But, genuinely interested (sic), what happens when they get old? More people from the same area, or are we going to mix and match a bit more??

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

The lockdowns, the vaccines, the billions wasted on respirators and PPE are annoying but transient. In a hundred years time they will have left no mark.
If you replace the population that is permanent. You’ve changed the country forever.

Last edited 1 month ago by D Glover
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

Do you care whether we will still have a health service in a few years’ time when you start to need it? Or will you just go private?

You cannot have open borders and a welfare state. It’s one or the other.

R S
R S
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I do not want open borders and I agree that the channel crossings is an issue that needs attention. But of all the issues the government needs to focus on right now, in terms of real world consequence, the channel crossings comes quite far down the list. 20-30k crossings per year is just peanuts in the grand scheme of things. I’m genuinely curious as to how it manages to rile people who should be able to put the negative impact of these crossings into perspective.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  R S

It should take the SBS (Special Boat Service) 24 hours to sort out this minuscule problem. Why are we dithering so?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago

They’d say “Sh00t the lawyers”, probably.

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago

All he needs to do is ditch one of Boris’s biggest and riskiest white elephants.

If by that you mean the two new aircraft carriers, they were Gordon Brown’s elephants. Rosyth Dockyard is in the constituency next to Brown’s own.
It’s called the politics of the pork barrel.

Last edited 1 month ago by D Glover
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  D Glover

Funny how it was a leak in the port propeller shaft that scuppered the recent voyage of H.M.S Prince of Wales.
The same thing happened to her predecessor, courtesy of a Japanese torpedo in 1942, with even more unfortunate results.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago

” Further, he suggested that the cables’ owners like Google and Facebook”

Zuckerberg and his $400,000,000 in voting schemes in 2020 basically got Biden in, And he owns Globally vital infrastructure? Facebook does, and Google? Bill Gates must own the rest – and Musk owns space and satellites – I bet Bezos owns satellite and cables too.

Google, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Gates basically gave us the covid disaster by acting as the information gatekeepers. Same with Ukraine war….

This cabal surely are the 007 SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) and in 2022, and have taken over…

Forget buying a second ship – spend it on figuring what these lizard people are up to.

Will Will
Will Will
1 month ago

My grandfather served on cable ships. Britain, being the world leader in submarine cables, managed to cut all Germany’s submarine cables within a week of the outbreak of the Great War thus forcing Germany to rely on radio telecommunication which was much easier for the Allies to intercept.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago

It makes no more sense to ignore China to concentrate on Russia than it did to ignore Russia to concentrate on China.

Tim Lever
Tim Lever
1 month ago

More paranoia from Aris. Russia is BAD, BAD, BAD and we should remain hostile. Why not just try to forge a business-like trading relationship with all countries including Russia and China and stop being part of a hostile US bloc that is trying to subjugate them?

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Lever

China is definitely planning for and aiming for world control, and is doing very well. Russia would probably like it but knows that, currently at least, it is so impossible as to be not worth pursuing. So yes they both are threats to the UK.
And yes the US, especially with the current lunatics in charge of Govt and business are definitely also a major threat.