The Telegraph 2024-02-27 04:30:29

Army wives force MoD about-turn over housing

A Ministry of Defence plan to change the way Army accommodation is allocated has been shelved amid a backlash from military wives, The Telegraph can reveal.

The controversial proposal – which would have allocated housing by the number of children a serviceman or woman has, rather than their rank – was paused by Grant Shapps days after The Telegraph revealed growing anger at the scheme.

The Defence Secretary halted the rollout and ordered a review amid fears the Modern Accommodation Offer (MAO) plan was so unpopular that it could have led to an exodus of officers.

A source close to Mr Shapps said: “The Secretary of State is right to get to grips with this. He will pause the family accommodation part of the new policy while we consult and evaluate the policy and make sure it is fit for purpose.

“Some concerns have been raised from senior officers, and we are confident that we can make changes so that this is a policy which will work for everyone.”

A group of Army wives had started a campaign against the plan, warning that it would harm retention rates and lead to an “irreversible effect” on the capability of the Armed Forces.

Staff have historically been rewarded with larger homes as they progress through the ranks of the Army, Navy and RAF, and the new system had been set to begin next month.

Rosie Bucknall, the wife of an Army captain and one of the women who launched the campaign, said: “This development is exactly what we have been hoping for. 

“We are thrilled the Defence Secretary has stepped in to apply common sense to such a drastic change and represent the interests of the people for whom he is responsible.”

However, she added: “The proof lies in what happens next, and how serving families are engaged.”

On Saturday, The Telegraph revealed the backlash against the scheme, with Mrs Bucknall accusing the MoD of an “utter betrayal”.

On Sunday, it was revealed that Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, had told former generals that the plan presented a “risk to the social fabric of the Army”.

The MoD is understood to have been taken aback by the scale of the anger. One senior Army source told The Telegraph that he had officers threatening to quit over the proposals, and said that on Monday he had been receiving updates “on an hourly basis” about how to manage the fallout.

The families of officers are often forced to move around the country every two or three years, and often have little to no choice on where they live.

However, servicemen and women had previously been entitled to a home of certain size, decided by their rank. Under the new plan, a junior ranking person with one or more children would be entitled to live in a larger house than an officer of higher rank with no children.

The decision to pause the MAO plan came amid fears about its effect on recruitment and retention at a time when the military is increasingly under pressure. The number of people leaving the Armed Forces jumped by almost a fifth at the end of last year.

In January, the chairman of the Nato military committee warned of war with Russia within 20 years, and British forces are currently taking part in a Nato exercise representing the largest deployment of land forces to Nato since the height of the Cold War in 1984.

The Telegraph also understands that the MoD will not get extra funding in the Budget next month, despite military figures warning about the state of the Armed Forces.

A government source said the concerns about rank-based housing allocation would be the key area that the MoD would review, noting that it could impact the hierarchical nature of the military’s chain of command.

“By pressing pause, we are recognising the fabric of the military and the pressures and tensions of it,” said the source. “We need to make sure we work out the bits people aren’t happy about so that we can find some solution.”

The source said more research would be conducted with officers, as well as their families, after just 69 people were originally interviewed about the impact of the scheme.

They added that other parts of the plans would be continued with, including providing help when military personnel were moved to another base and with legal fees for first-time home-buyers.

“These people make the sacrifices they make and we are keen that they have a good standard of places to live – we don’t want people to be so unhappy they are leaving,” said the source.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are committed to widening entitlement to those in established long-term relationships and parents with non-resident children. 

“But we have listened to feedback and are therefore pausing the rollout of the elements of the policy related to service families’ accommodation, including the move to needs-based allocation and, in the short term, the widening of entitlement.”

Charity rower found dead on his boat during Atlantic crossing attempt

A charity rower has been found dead aboard his boat during his attempt to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

Michael Holt, 54, set off on the challenge from Gran Canaria on Jan 27 but was discovered dead in his cabin 700 miles into the fundraiser.

Mr Holt, who had Type 1 diabetes, had fallen ill and died and his body was found by the crew of a fishing vessel that had sailed to his aid.

He had hoped to reach Barbados in the Caribbean within 50 to 110 days to help support two charities: Mind and Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services.

His death was confirmed in a statement made by David Holt, his brother, on Facebook.

‘Died doing something he wanted to do’

“We have been working tirelessly to get help to Michael over the past four days but have found it incredibly difficult to do so,” his brother wrote.

“Last night, the fishing vessel Noruego accepted a task from Cape Verde Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and made directly for Michael’s co-ordinates.

“Very sadly, upon arrival, Michael was found dead inside his cabin.”

He added: “Of course, this was not the ultimate conclusion we were looking for, but I am somewhat comforted knowing he died doing something he absolutely wanted to do with a passion and managed to row in excess of 700 miles in the process. An achievement in itself.”

Mr Holt’s death was described as a “huge shock” to his family, who said people’s messages of support meant a “great deal to all the family”.

He was expected to have to row for more than 16 hours a day and only have four hours of sleep.

Double reconstructive surgery

Mr Holt, from Porthmadog in Gwynedd, faced a series of challenges during his journey, ranging from a shark attacking his rudder to strong winds and losing an oar.

He had been travelling alone on his boat, named Mynadd, but was in touch with a firm that was tracking his progress as he didn’t have a helicopter or boat helping him.

Last year, he rowed across the Irish Sea from Porthmadog Harbour to Wicklow to help raise money towards Porthmadog FC.

In 2015, he faced double reconstructive surgery on both his shoulders, which included 20 titanium rods being inserted in his body.

Last week, he had complained of seasickness and he thought it was a “bad reaction to taking some antibiotics”.

It delayed his travel to Barbados and had to start rowing 300 miles south to the island Cape Verde instead.

How cat killer slaughtered animal for lover before selecting human prey

On March 22 2021, Scarlet Blake, a 26-year-old transgender woman from Oxford, live streamed a video in which a cat was strangled, skinned and dissected before its body was put in a blender.

After the dissection, Blake, the daughter of a doctor, tells the camera in a monosyllabic tone: “One day I want to learn how to do this to a person”.

Blake had carefully assembled the props for that evening’s show, live streamed to girlfriend Ashlynn Bell watching from more than 4,000 miles away in the US. Scalpels, surgical gloves, a gas mask, a blender and a terrified cat stolen from a neighbour’s home were positioned in front of a video camera and tripod.

Vets said the cat, named Starlet, would have experienced excruciating pain for three minutes.

Blake, who posed, smiling, with the animal’s severed head, would later claim Starlet’s torture and evisceration were all done as a “gift” for Bell and that Blake derived no pleasure from it.

However, this was later proven to be a lie, with prosecutors “in no doubt” that Blake “personally enjoyed” the act.

The day afterwards, Blake took a photograph of a missing poster for Starlet put up in the local area by its owners.

In the background of the live stream, the song True Faith by New Order can be heard playing on a loop. The song’s relevance would become disturbingly clear for jurors sitting at Oxford Crown Court three years later when they learnt that the track features on a Netflix Documentary titled Don’t F— With Cats about a man who kills a cat and a student.

Four months later, the grotesque rehearsal took on an even more sinister meaning when Blake murdered Jorge Martin Carreno, a 30-year-old BMW worker from Spain.

In the early hours of July 25 2021, Blake, wearing a hooded black combat jacket, a mask and a backpack containing a bottle of vodka, left home in Marston, north-east Oxford and started on the 40-minute walk towards the city centre.

CCTV footage played to jurors during the trial showed the murderer prowling the high streets of Oxford “sizing up potential victims”.

Blake’s choice of date and time was significant. It was only six days after the Government had lifted all lockdown rules, allowing people to freely socialise once more in nightclubs and bars.

Blake knew that between 3am and 4am on a Sunday, the would-be killer “stood a good chance of finding someone vulnerable”.

It did not take long for Blake to come across Carreno, who had become lost after a night of drinking with work colleagues.

CCTV footage shows him dropping his wallet and meandering through the city’s cobbled streets, trying to return home.

Blake noticed Carreno on his own outside the Radcliffe Camera building at Oxford University at 4am.

The killer paused for a moment to look at him before deciding to sit next to him.

The prosecution said this was calculated “and predatory behaviour”.

“When you happened upon Jorge, you selected him precisely because you thought he looked vulnerable, sitting as he was on the ground at 4 o’clock in the morning, smaller and slighter than you and likely to have had something to drink,” Oxford Crown Court would later hear.

Blake can be seen on footage appearing to offer to share with Carreno the bottle of vodka.

After around 12 minutes, Blake persuades Carreno to walk together towards Parson’s Pleasure, a remote area in the University Parks on the River Cherwell.

The choice of destination was also no accident. Blake had often visited the secluded spot and had earmarked it as a good place to kill someone “unseen and undisturbed”, Oxford Crown Court heard.

At 5.15am, Blake struck Carreno on the back of the head with either the vodka bottle or another item in the backpack.

Blake then throttled Carreno either using bare hands or a “broad ligature”, before pushing him into the river, where he drowned.

The judge told Blake during sentencing: “Your decision to kill Jorge was not a reaction to something he had said or done.

“It was not a momentary mistake. It was not a decision made in anger or because your emotions overcame you.

“It was the culmination of a plan you had been considering and formulating for months.”

Days after the murder, Blake returned to the scene after Carreno’s body had been found, taking photographs of the memorial left by his grieving family and the tree next to which he had been killed – a sign of the killer’s “complete indifference” to his family’s suffering.

It would take two years before Blake was arrested in August 2023 after the coroner ruled Carreno had accidentally drowned because of alcohol intoxication.

In the run-up to the murder, Blake had developed an “obsession with harm and death”, most clearly seen in the relationship with Bell, a transgender escort whom Blake met online.

Bell would later come forward to give evidence to the prosecution in a breakthrough for detectives.

Before leaving home on the evening of the murder, Blake sent Bell a “dark and menacing” selfie wearing the combat jacket.

Images recovered from Blake’s phone show a list of grotesque online jokes, and images sent to Bell, showcasing an obsession with serial killers and sexual violence. One “meme” showed an image of a rope, tape, a gun and knife, with the caption “first date with me”.

Another photo showed a bed strewn with rose petals spelling the message “bruise my oesophagus”.

An image of a woman wearing a T-shirt with an image of two speech bubbles reading “you’re cute” and “murder me” was also shown to the jury.

The court heard Blake and Bell had online discussions about choking and death, but Blake told the court this was “role play” and that there wouldn’t be “actual death”.

Blake, who transitioned at the age of 12, would later try to convince the court of not wanting to kill a living creature, let alone a person, but being pressured by Bell to do so.

Blake also claimed the choice of song played during the grotesque livestream had nothing to do with the Netflix show, a claim rejected by Judge Chamberlain who said it “played a part in cementing in your own mind the link between killing a cat and killing a person”.

Justice Chamberlain explained how Blake had sought to blame macabre interests on mental health problems.

“You attributed your morbid interests to a split or dissociative personality, using the language of psychiatry or psychoanalysis.

“You adopted the persona of a cat. You talked about the difficulties you had had since transitioning in childhood to live as a woman and about your troubled relationship with your parents.”

However, this was all part of an “elaborate attempt” to rationalise the murder and “shift responsibility to others,” he added.

Justice Chamberlain continued: “There is no evidence that you suffer from any relevant mental illness or other mental disorder.

“What you did is not the fault of a society that didn’t accept you. It is not the fault of your parents.

“Whatever role Ashlynn Bell may have played in encouraging your interest in killing, she remained in the United States.

“She did not control or direct you. Even if the decision was motivated in part by a desire to please her, the decision to kill was entirely yours.”

When Blake was finally arrested on August 2023, police body cam footage shows her asking for nicotine patches and saying “at least it’s not genocide”.

Blake later answered “no comment” to all of the questions in 11 police interviews.

After a three-week trial, Blake was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 24 years.

Tory MP claims Birmingham and London have ‘no-go’ areas amid Islamophobia row

A Tory former government minister has claimed that there are religious “no-go areas” in Birmingham and east London, sparking a fresh row over Islamophobia.

Paul Scully, an MP who ran to be the Conservatives’ London mayoral candidate, made the remarks during a discussion about allegations of anti-Muslim sentiments within the party.

It comes as Rishi Sunak is under pressure over his handling of comments by Lee Anderson, who was stripped of the Tory whip after claiming that “Islamists” have “got control” of Sadiq Khan.

In an interview with BBC London, Mr Scully, the London minister from 2021 to 2022, made reference to parts of the capital and Birmingham with high Muslim populations.

He said: “The point I am trying to make is if you look at parts of Tower Hamlets, for example, where there are no-go areas, parts of Birmingham Sparkhill, where there are no-go areas, mainly because of doctrine, mainly because of people using, abusing in many ways, their religion to… because it is not the doctrine of Islam, to espouse what some of these people are saying. That, I think, is the concern that needs to be addressed.”

There was an immediate backlash, with Andy Street, the Tory West Midlands mayor, urging “those in Westminster to stop the nonsense slurs”.

He posted on X, formerly Twitter:

Labour’s Jess Phillips, whose Birmingham constituency includes part of the Sparkhill area, said: “As one of the MPs for Sparkhill, I am expecting an apology for this utter drivel.

“My kids hang out in Sparkhill day and night, never had a moment’s worry, I go there weekly and live literally a five-minute walk from there and used to live there myself.”

Ali Milani, the chairman of the Labour Muslim Network, told BBC London that Mr Scully was perpetuating an “Islamophobic myth” and said: “There are no Muslim ‘no-go’ areas in this country… this is not true, it’s Islamophobic.” 

A previous row over “no-go areas” was sparked in 2015, when Donald Trump said during the US presidential race that there were places in London “so radicalised” that police were “afraid for their own lives”.

Boris Johnson, then the London mayor, mocked the idea that officers would stay away from some neighbourhoods as “ill-informed” and “complete and utter nonsense”.

Scotland Yard broke with convention to issue a statement, with a spokesman saying: “We would not normally dignify such comments with a response. However, on this occasion we think it’s important to state to Londoners that Mr Trump could not be more wrong.”

The same year similar claims were made by Fox News, which later issued an apology and was criticised by Ofcom.

Earlier in the interview on Monday, Mr Scully said he did not think the Tory party had a problem with Islamophobia. He added that he did not “like the term”, preferring to use “anti-Muslim hatred” where appropriate.

Asked whether he thought there was a Tory problem with Islamophobia, he said: “No, I don’t think there is. I think there are people who are fearful that they’re trying to represent. It’s a sense of populism in certain parts of the country where… you see what’s happening, unravelling in Rochdale at the moment and during the by-election and those kinds of things.

“It tends to be soaked up partly as a political thing – you’ve had the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party over the last few years, you’ve got people concerned about their neighbourhoods changing, in parts of the North in particular, not especially in London, and I think they’re trying to reflect that but in a really, really clumsy way.

“We’ve got to have a sensible use of language so that we can have a constructive, adult debate about this.”

RAF’s top man in Pentagon hid £20k ‘housing fraud’ from MoD and wife, court hears

The RAF’s most senior officer at the Pentagon hid a £20,000 housing fraud from the Ministry of Defence and his wife, a court has heard.

Wing Cdr Alex Drysdale is accused of squirrelling away the cash in a secret bank account when he was seconded to a role at the Department of Defense in Washington.

After taking up a senior post with Air Force warfighting integration capability (AFWIC), Mr Drysdale, a military strategy specialist, allegedly arranged for an overseas rent allowance (ORA) of £2,408 a month to be paid into a new bank account that only he knew about.

A military court sitting in Catterick, North Yorkshire, heard how Wing Cdr Drysdale had told his wife, who was studying to become a nurse, that they would no longer be receiving the ORA into their joint account.

But it is alleged that, unbeknown to her, he continued to claim the cash and had it paid into his own account.

Wing Cdr Drysdale, who began his RAF career as a search-and-rescue pilot in Moray, Scotland, in 2006, denies defrauding the Ministry of Defence of £19,502 in ORA, claiming his failure to tell them of a change in circumstances was “an oversight”.

But the court was told he submitted a false document in support of his claim, which amounted to “a lie intended to conceal a deliberate fraud”.

‘Use funds for himself’

Cdre James Farrant, prosecuting, told the court: “He opened a new bank account to conceal these matters from his wife.

“He transferred the allowance payments from their joint account to a bank account that was his and his alone.

“He told his wife that he expected the allowance to cease and he knew that she was under that impression. She did not know he was still claiming it. He did this because he intended to keep and use the funds for himself.”

The hearing was told that British service personnel working overseas are entitled to ORA if they rent property during their posting, however, if they buy their home the allowance will stop.

Mr Drysdale and his family had been in the United States since 2011, with him working mostly in the Nevada area.

The family rented a property in Las Vegas, paying the rent but claiming it back from British Defence Services, who also paid them a fuel and lighting allowance.

However, in 2021, Wing Cdr Drysdale and his wife decided to buy their home but he did not declare the sale and secretly continued to claim back the rent money.

Cdre Farrant said the fraudulent behaviour began soon after Mr Drysdale was promoted from squadron leader to wing commander in March 2021.

It meant he was told he would be leaving his role at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for a new post with AFWIC based 2,400 miles away at The Pentagon.

‘Secretly continued to claim’ 

Wing Cdr Drysdale decided to leave his family behind in Las Vegas because his wife had started a nursing degree, choosing to rent a property in Washington, DC and return home to Las Vegas whenever work allowed.

Around the same time, following the promotion, he decided to buy their home in Las Vegas, with the sale going through in February 2022.

He explained to his wife that as a result they would no longer be receiving ORA, but secretly continued to claim it, the court heard.

Cdre Farrant said: “The prosecution case is that Wing Cdr Drysdale deliberately and dishonestly concealed the fact he purchased his home from British Defence Services in order to continue claiming the allowance.”

The court heard when the fraud was discovered, Wing Cdr Drysdale broke down in tears and claimed he did not know what he had done wrong and repaid the money.

Wing Cdr Drysdale denies fraud by false representation and the trial, expected to last a week, continues.

Children in tears as ‘damp squib’ Willy Wonka event is cancelled and police are called

In the beloved children’s story by Roald Dahl, the golden ticket holders who won a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory were promised – and experienced – “a world of pure imagination”.

But children hoping for a similar magical experience at a £35-a-head event in Glasgow instead found what their parents described as an “incredibly underwhelming” damp squib.

Some of the children who had travelled from across Scotland and the north of England to Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow ended up in tears. The all-weekend event was abruptly cancelled only halfway through its first day, and police were called as anger grew.

Organisers House of Illuminati promised visitors a “journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn” and a day “where dreams come to life”.

The advertised attractions included an “enchanted garden” with giant sweets and an “imagination lab” that promised to transport the viewer into “the realm of creativity”.

But parents expecting the experience to recreate the magic of Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were hugely disappointed.

Visitors said the event took place in a venue that was little more than “an abandoned empty warehouse” sparsely decorated with plastic props, a small bouncy castle and backdrops pinned to walls.

The furious reaction from parents prompted the organisers to close the event midway through Saturday, only hours after it had opened.

Police Scotland confirmed that officers were called to the event at the Box Hub Warehouse in Whiteinch, and said “advice was given” following complaints from unhappy visitors. House of Illuminati published an apology on its Facebook page and promised refunds over the coming days.

Visitor Shirley Bell wrote: “We had tickets for 1.15pm and didn’t even get in. They have shut it down as so many complaints. Apparently a few props and a couple of people dressed up and then wait for a packet a sweets and a wee lolly.

“Kids all dressed up and crying waiting for what they thought was going to be a magical experience. The organisers should be ashamed of themselves.”

Stuart Sinclair, 29, from Douglas, South Lanarkshire, took his two sons and four-year-old daughter to the attraction.

He told the Courier newspaper: “There was a guy wandering around apparently dressed as Willy Wonka but he didn’t seem interested. You then got inside and there were a couple of props and a plastic chocolate thing.

“In the next room, they had test tubes with jelly babies. I said to the kids at least they would get a bag of sweets but they gave them one single sweet each.”

Another parent posted on Facebook: “What an absolute farce, two upset kids. Cowboys.”

Eva Stewart, of East Kilbride, told BBC Scotland: “It was basically advertised as this big massive Willy Wonka experience with optical illusions and big chocolate fountains and sweets.

“But when we got there, it was practically an abandoned, empty warehouse, with hardly anything in it.”

A Facebook group was set up by those left angry and disappointed by the experience.

The Box Hub venue said it had only hired out the space and was not responsible for the exhibition.

Matthew Waterfield, the operations manager, told The Scottish Sun that House of Illuminati approached the venue a few weeks ago with a plan that “sounded great on paper” but “looked incredibly underwhelming”.

He said visitors “were very unhappy with the amount of money House of Illuminati had been charging for admittance”, adding: “Things started to get quite aggressive.”

In a post on Facebook, a House of Illuminati spokesman said: “Today has been a very stressful and frustrating day for many and for that we are truly sorry.

“Unfortunately, at the last minute we were let down in many areas of our event and tried our best to continue on and push through and now realise we probably should have cancelled first thing this morning instead.

“We fully apologise for what has happened and will be giving full refunds to each and every person that purchased tickets. We planned a fabulous event and it just did not take shape as planned and for that we are truly sorry.”

Glasgow City Council said its trading standards department had received one complaint and people should contact the organiser in the first instance to obtain a refund.

Nato and EU states ‘considering sending troops to Ukraine’

The prime minister of Slovakia has claimed that Nato and EU member states are preparing to deploy troops to Ukraine.

Robert Fico, a pro-Russia populist, offered no details of how Western soldiers could be sent to assist Ukraine, and commentators said he was probably just trying to stir up trouble.

He was speaking ahead of a hastily-arranged meeting of European leaders in Paris because of what his advisers say is an escalation in Russian aggression over the past few weeks.

The meeting implies that “a number of Nato and EU member states are considering that they will send their troops to Ukraine on a bilateral basis”, Mr Fico told a televised briefing following a meeting of Slovakia’s security council.

“I cannot say for what purpose and what they should be doing there,” he said, adding that Slovakia, a member of the EU and Nato, would not be sending soldiers to Ukraine.

Mr Fico, who was elected last October, said the move could risk an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, but could not offer more information.

It was not clear whether he was referring to the prospect of Western troops being deployed to Ukraine while the war is still raging.

Nato allies have spent billions of pounds providing arms to Kyiv and are training Ukrainian forces in the West, but Western capitals have refused to consider boots on the ground to avoid entering a direct conflict with Russia.

However, this has not prevented planning for future training deployments to enhance Kyiv’s military after the war comes to an end.

Before he stood down, Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, suggested Britain would station more troops in Ukraine than it ever had before.

The UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other Western nations have long-term security agreements with Kyiv that raise the prospect of similar training missions.

Asked about the comments, Petr Fiala, the Czech prime minister said: “The Czech Republic certainly is not preparing to send any soldiers to Ukraine, nobody has to worry about that.”

Mr Fico was propelled to office on a promise to halt military aid to Ukraine and oppose Western sanctions on Russia.

The Slovak leader has since performed a U-turn on his central campaign pledge, and private arms exports continue to flow into Kyiv.

His rise to power in a country that neighbours Ukraine was one of the initial signs of a growing fatigue for the war in Eastern Europe.

Slovakia has also been considered a useful asset to the Kremlin as it seeks to make a show of the West’s dwindling support for Ukraine.

Mr Fico was among Western leaders attending talks in Paris on Monday night to send Vladimir Putin a message of European resolve on Ukraine and counter the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is bound to win a war now entering its third year

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, hosted the leaders of 17 EU countries, as well as ministers and officials from the UK, United States and Canada.

Mr Fico earlier said the meeting showed the West’s strategy on Ukraine had failed. He said he would to take part in a constructive spirit, although the material for discussions sent “shivers down his spine”.

In January, the Slovakian leader said there was “no war in Kyiv” and described life there as “absolutely normal”.

Following the meeting, Mr Macron announced that a new coalition would be created to supply Ukraine with longer-range missiles and munitions, adding that not even the sending of Western ground troops to fight the Russian invasion should be ruled out.

“There is no consensus today to send ground troops… but nothing should be excluded. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” Mr Macron said after the meeting in Paris.

He said the new coalition would be set up to supply “missiles and bombs of medium and long range” to Ukraine and added: “We are convinced that the defeat of Russia is indispensable to security and stability in Europe.”