GUY ADAMS: Did the RAF break the law in its pursuit of diversity?

Leaked emails that PROVE the RAF is prejudiced against white male recruits: The Air Force apologised after requesting diverse pilot to be their face at Top Gun 2 premiere… now GUY ADAMS asks if latest evidence shows top brass breached equality laws

No one draws a crowd quite like Tom Cruise, and when the Hollywood star came to London to promote his new Top Gun movie, Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force was handed a priceless PR opportunity.

Specifically, its ‘Media & Comms’ team was asked if they could find a real-life British fighter ace to join Cruise at one of the media events scheduled around the film’s glittering premiere in Leicester Square. In late April, an RAF publicity wallah named ‘Sarah’ therefore emailed officials at RAF bases, looking for someone to take on the job.

And that’s when things took a bizarre — and some might say sinister — turn.

Air Vice Marshall Maria Byford is believed to have devised the plan to ‘pause’ the recruitment of white male pilots and instead trying and increase the number of women and ethnic minorities in the RAF

The RAF was looking for a ‘pilot, who is preferably not white male’ to attend a PR event with Tom Cruise to promote the launch of his movie Top Gun 2

Instead, the only thing that really matters in the modern Air Force, judging by this brief, is whether someone can tick one of two all-important boxes. As the email puts it, they will ‘preferably’ be either a woman or hail from an ethnic minority. Or, ideally, both.

‘Gents,’ began her message. ‘Do any of you have a ‘pilot who is preferably not a white male’ who would like to be the ‘RAF’ face at a press event for the release of Top Gun 2? Shy guys get no cakes so shout quick as offer has also gone out to other units.’

The email, a full copy of which was passed to me this week, offers a sobering insight into a culture that appears to have become normalised at the very highest echelons of the RAF.

For it suggests that ‘Sarah,’ or at least the superiors she was quoting, have a very particular idea about the sort of pilot they want to stick in front of camera.

One that has nothing whatsoever to do with how gallantly that person might have served their country, or how competently they can fly a military jet.

Instead, the only thing that really matters in the modern Air Force, judging by this brief, is whether someone can tick one of two all-important boxes. As the email puts it, they will ‘preferably’ be either a woman or hail from an ethnic minority. Or, ideally, both.

Tom Cruise, pictured in front of a model of a Typhoon fighter jet to promote the premiere of his movie Top Gun 2. The RAF wanted a pilot, who was not a white male, to attend a promotional event with the Hollywood star

Scandalously, it turns out that the RAF hasn’t just been stopping its white male servicemen from taking part in over efectiveness PR stunts, either.

For it emerged this week that senior officers have also been trying to stop anyone from this unfashionable demographic (which includes more than four out of ten Britons) from joining the service in the first place.

We know this because of an extraordinary row surrounding the resignation of a Group Captain who had a senior role in the RAF’s Recruitment and Selection team.

I can today reveal her name is Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Nicholl.

Described by insiders as ‘highly regarded,’ she quit earlier this month in what seems to have been acrimonious circumstances.

Specifically, Nicholl had been asked by a more senior officer to effectively prevent a tranche of white men from joining up. Instead, she was ordered to give their jobs to less well-qualified ‘women and ethnic minority candidates’.

The big idea — illegal under equality law —seems to have been dreamt up by the RAF’s head of recruitment, a former military dentist named Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford. More on her later.

It was designed to help the RAF meet diversity quotas — described as ‘impossible’ by some sources. These had been set by the man in overall charge of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.

The whole controversy is laid bare in a number of leaked emails.

Critics insist that merit, rather than ethnicity or gender, should be the first and only measure of whether someone is fit to serve

Perhaps the most striking was sent on August 4 and obtained by Sky News last week.

It saw Nicholl complain that she’d been instructed ‘to make offers of employment to additional women and EM [ethnic minority] candidates solely on the basis of their protected characteristics and in preference to non-EM men who have passed all selection criteria ahead of them’. ‘This is unlawful,’ she wrote. ‘I am not prepared to delegate or abdicate the responsibility of actioning that order to my staff.’

Perhaps inevitably, the circumstances of Nicholl’s departure sparked outrage in military circles. Critics insist that merit, rather than ethnicity or gender, should be the first and only measure of whether someone is fit to serve.

Any policy that prevents the RAF from recruiting and promoting the very best people it can find (regardless of the diversity boxes they may tick) will, after all, reduce the service’s effectiveness at defending the realm.

‘Despite Britain facing its most extreme security threats since World War II, chunks of the MoD are more interested in prioritising diversity over operational effectiveness,’ a senior military source told reporters this week.

A second Whitehall source complained: ‘This is a dereliction of duty from a Conservative government which seems to have surrendered to the Left’s equality agenda.’ What the defence secretary Ben Wallace makes of this shabby affair (which played out on his watch) is anyone’s guess. He has yet to comment.

However, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said this week that he has ordered an inquiry into whether the RAF has been acting illegally.

In a TV interview, Heappey nonetheless expressed confidence in the man in charge of the policy that led to Nicholl’s departure: Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.

Can that confidence survive the coming months? Who knows. For Wigston turns out to be a key figure in recent developments.

Indeed, to understand exactly how the RAF has ended up in this mess, one must wind the clock back to the summer of 2019, when he was given the top job.

His appointment surprised insiders. They had expected the role to go to Sir Stuart Atha, the RAF’s Deputy Commander Operations. However as then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson mulled things, Wigston played a canny political hand, persuading the minister to give him the important task of carrying out an ‘urgent review’ into a string of high-profile scandals involving ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in the ArmedForces.

Wigston published a 41-page document that concluded there was a ‘white, middle-aged pack mentality’ in the forces.

The ‘Wigston review’ called for all military recruits to ‘receive immersive culture and behaviour training’ and alleged that ‘micro-aggressions’ occur ‘daily’ in the services.

Once hired as Chief of Air Staff, and seemingly inspired by his experience producing the document, its author decided to devote much of his reign to a crusade to make the RAF ‘properly reflect’ modern society.

‘He has taken his eye off the ball,’ is how defence analyst Howard Wheeldon puts it. ‘No one is against diversity and inclusion, but it needs to happen slowly and naturally.

‘Instead, it has been done at the expense of operational capability, and without looking after people who are already in the service: ensuring they are motivated to stay in their jobs.’ Under Sir Mike, the RAF has been at pains to present a progressive face to the world. Before Christmas, he announced that as part of its new ‘strategic objectives’ the RAF was to no longer use the word ‘airman’, insisting crews are described as ‘aviators’ to better reflect today’s ‘diverse’ service.

‘If that’s the first time you’ve heard the term ‘aviator’ in that way, then get on board,’ he declared in an article for the in-house magazine Air Clues. Any heretics could also consult the RAF’s ‘diversity and inclusion’ policy manual, which now runs to 29 pages.

There have also been endless PR stunts. For example, when the England women’s football team reached the European Championship final at Wembley, an all-female team of pilots was assembled to perform a fly-past and media duties. Male colleagues qualified for the role were ignored.

Meanwhile in July, RAF Honington removed a sign from a front gate denoting that it was an ‘officers’ entrance only’. In a viral tweet, its commanding officer declared that the ‘old sign [is] being removed because it didn’t feel very #nextgenraf or inclusive’.

Since all military forces revolve, by necessity, around a hierarchy that allows them to wage war, the move sparked ridicule among veterans.

Sir Mike has occasionally been challenged. During a charity dinner at the House of Lords last year, he found himself near to Wheeldon, who asked a tricky question: ‘Is there any room left in the modern-day Royal Air Force for merit?’

Any policy that prevents the RAF from recruiting and promoting the very best people it can find (regardless of the diversity boxes they may tick) will, after all, reduce the service’s effectiveness at defending the realm

He got short shrift. ‘I won’t repeat the response I received, because that would be wrong,’ recalls Wheeldon. ‘But I will say that it was answered with a large degree of anger.’

Be that as it may, the RAF is hardly alone, in today’s military, in its woke obsession with diversity.

Two years ago it emerged that the Ministry of Defence actually employs more diversity and equality officers than the Royal Navy has warships — 44 of them, in fact.

At the time, the ministry was looking to recruit a diversity and inclusion director on a £110,000 annual salary. That’s more than the total earned by an army colonel, who commands a battalion of 800 soldiers.

The job went to Samantha des Forges. Her LinkedIn profile styles her as ‘Samantha des Forges she/her/hers’.

Meanwhile, in November, it emerged that all three Armed Forces were signed up to Stonewall’s ‘diversity champions programme,’ a costly and controversial scheme that has been accused by a number of Government ministers of promoting divisive views around gender and sexuality, and stifling free speech.

Under the programme, officials at the MoD were told to state their ‘preferred gender pronouns’ on email signatures, social media profiles and at meetings.

An ‘inclusive language’ guide, covered how to discuss sensitive subjects such as gender identity. It appeared to take some sentences verbatim from Stonewall, declaring that ‘not all women are biologically female’ and advising readers to be careful using the word ‘female’, in case it ‘erases gender non-conforming people and members of the trans community’.

Where attempts to improve diversity and inclusion in the Forces become most controversial, however, are when they stray into the minefield of employment law.

To this end, Sir Mike’s reign at the RAF is a pertinent case study.

At the time he took the top job, a mere 2.5 per cent of RAF personnel hailed from ethnic minorities, the lowest proportion of all the Armed Services (and less than the roughly 13 per cent of Britons who are non-white). He announced that he wanted new recruits to be 10 per cent BAME and 20 per cent female within a couple of years.

That target was hit in March 2021, prompting a self-congratulatory press release by RAF HQ. The targets were then increased to 12 and 25 per cent, rising to 20 and 40 per cent respectively by 2030.

What no one was yet aware of, outside of a small cabal at the top of the RAF, was exactly how these targets were being met.

Thanks to its glamorous reputation, the RAF finds it relatively easy to drum up potential recruits, making it the only Armed Service without an ‘operational pinch point’ where there is a shortage of trained staff. This means it can be highly selective, plucking applicants from a large pool. Facing pressure to hit Sir Mike’s diversity targets, staff therefore began favouring so-called ‘priority branches’ of recruits: namely women and ethnic minorities.

Well-qualified white men were left sitting in the pool.

In September 2020, a senior non-commissioned officer in the recruitment team instructed colleagues to remove candidates booked to commence ‘compulsory basic aptitude testing’ between October 26 and November 23 ‘unless BAME or female’.

That email leaked this week. In response, the RAF said it was all a big mistake: the email’s contents had been challenged at the time by a junior officer from the recruiting staff and senior leaders ‘took immediate action to address this erroneous direction’.

Fast forward to this year, and the pool of potential recruits appears to have been emptied of almost all of its female and BAME members after the bid to hit last year’s target.

But rather than fill training courses with white men (which would have meant missing the target next year), they decided to cancel the courses altogether. This fact emerged on August 17, when Group Captain Nicholl’s resignation was first reported.

Initially, the MoD responded by claiming ‘there is no pause in RAF recruitment’. Unfortunately, yet another leaked email proved otherwise. Written by Nicholl on July 11, it stated that ‘our current pause’ in training courses was to continue for at least ‘the next 2/3 weeks’. The only exception under that policy was, the email stated, for so-called ‘priority candidates’ — namely women and members of ethnic minorities.

Asked for the truth in a news-paper interview, Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford then confirmed that a ‘pause’ was indeed in place.

Two days later, another tranche of emails emerged, revealing a further incident in which recruitment staff had in the year to March 2021 decided to ‘prioritise’ female and ethnic minority candidates to begin training courses.

A source claimed this was ‘to artificially inflate the numbers for that recruiting year. This was clearly positive discrimination’.

Exactly where the buck stops, and who authorised what appear to have been illegal and discriminatory employment practices, will now be established by whoever conducts the MoD’s inquiry.

As for Tom Cruise, the RAF ended up apologising ‘for any offence caused’ by its PR team’s email about his visit, which eventually leaked (like so many incriminating messages in this affair).

As for Tom Cruise, the RAF ended up apologising ‘for any offence caused’ by its PR team’s email about his visit, which eventually leaked (like so many incriminating messages in this affair)

It’s unclear whether any pilot ended up attending Top Gun media events.

However, they did get to welcome Cruise to the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in Gloucestershire later in the summer.

There, he was introduced to the Red Arrows, an aerobatic display team whose current members happen to all be white men.

Thankfully, some women were found to make up numbers for a photo-opportunity.

Two glamorous female mechanics who work with the Arrows were invited to shake hands with the Hollywood star, thereby ensuring those boxes they take so very seriously continued to be ticked.

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