Grant Shapps goes to war on military's 'woke' diversity policies

Defence secretary condemns 'extremist culture' as Army reportedly plans to relax security checks on overseas recruits

Grant Shapps leaves 10 Downing Street
Grant Shapps has ordered a major review of diversity and inclusion policies within the military
(Image credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the British Army has been infiltrated by a "woke" and "extremist culture", following reports of plans to relax security checks on overseas recruits to increase diversity.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the military's 2023 Race Action Plan describes security clearance vetting as being "the primary barrier to non-UK personnel gaining a commission in the Army", and vows to "challenge" security clearance requirements.

Recruitment targets have been "consistently missed" by the British Armed Forces over the past decade, said GB News, with ethnic minorities making up only 14% of the regular army.

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'Nothing short of dangerous madness'

In an open letter to the defence secretary published in The Telegraph, 12 former senior military officers said a relaxed vetting policy was "wicked" and, with Islamism and other extremism "rampant", "nothing short of dangerous madness". 

"The Russians, Iranians and Chinese will be observing our descent into self-hatred and obsessing over diversity and inclusion with glee," they wrote, adding that "woke" defence policies were leading to a "moral disarmament" in the Armed Forces.

"Nothing could be better calculated to destroy the esprit de corps of our Armed Forces than this poisonous farrago of nonsense," said the officers, who warned that the "obsessive racialising" would deter the type of people "most motivated and apt to our high calling".

Writing in the Daily Express, Shapps said yesterday that "over time, a woke culture has seeped into public life and it is poisoning common sense discourse". Although our country faces "serious issues" related to defence, he said, the "drumbeat of those who despise Britain, her proud history and the culture of her great people, is failing the Armed Services and the British public".

'Sending signals to voters'

Shapps has ordered a review of what he described as the "deeply unpopular and troubling" diversity and inclusion policies in the Armed Forces, such as gender neutral toilets.

He also took aim at a report published by the Army in 2022 that instructs soldiers to avoid religious elements in Acts of Remembrance on Armistice Day.

"No one should be offended by having religion as part of remembrance services," Shapps told The Telegraph. "You don't have to be Christian to appreciate and respect the history and traditions of the United Kingdom." 

His attempt to tie the "woke nonsense" infiltrating the Armed Forces to Labour was met with short shrift by the rival party's shadow defence secretary, however. John Healey said that national security must always be the "first priority for any government, and our Armed Forces must never relax security checks for recruits". But "from missing their own hiring targets every year to overseeing the terrible state of military housing, the forces' recruitment crisis has been caused by 14 years of Conservative failure", Healey added.

The British Army currently has around 76,000 regular full-time troops, down from nearly 103,000 in 2012. Government plans to cut the number of troops even further has "caused concern among US generals", said LBC. Yet "with recruitment proving difficult despite contracts worth more than a billion pounds awarded to a private company to oversee the process, army numbers could drop faster".

The newly leaked MoD report is fuel for critics who claim the Army is taking its diversity policies "too far", said Sky News's Nick Martin. But neither the backlash nor Shapps's "root and branch" review "solves the fact that ethnic minorities remain woefully underrepresented, because this is as much about sending signals to voters as it is about solving a problem".

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