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US-UK Defence Relations

Volume 620: debated on Monday 30 January 2017

I had an introductory call with Secretary Jim Mattis last Monday. We discussed our joint leadership in NATO, including modernising the alliance and encouraging all members to meet the 2% spending commitment. On Friday, President Trump confirmed he is 100% committed to NATO. We also plan to work together to accelerate the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I look forward to meeting Secretary Mattis at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in a fortnight’s time.

The new American President supports the torture of prisoners of war. We do not and neither does the new Secretary of Defence. May I ask the Secretary of State not to reiterate the Government’s position, but instead tell us why he thinks a proponent of torture is an appropriate recipient of a state visit?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the Government’s position absolutely clear. We do not condone the use of torture in operations and nor does the new American Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis. As I understand it, the President of the United States has made it clear that he will be guided by those in his Cabinet. On this issue, they are taking a different view.

In my right hon. Friend’s discussions, did he mention Chancellor Merkel’s call for the remaining EU 27 to engage in closer military co-operation? Does he agree that it would be extremely dangerous and damaging to NATO if such co-operation was within the confines of the EU alone, and that co-operation between European countries should be in the context of NATO, not the EU?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. At the Warsaw summit in July last year, all NATO members agreed to improve collaboration between NATO and the European Union, particularly in areas such as hybrid warfare and strategic communications. EU Ministers have subsequently resisted the call for unnecessary duplication with what NATO is already doing.

When countries announce xenophobic and destabilising policies, does the Defence Secretary think the right thing to do is to appease them?

If the hon. Lady is referring to the United States, then as the United States’ deepest long-standing ally we will of course make our views known. Our Prime Minister was the first foreign leader to meet the new President. We will continue to offer the United States our candid advice.

The Prime Minister securing the President’s 100% support for NATO, along with General Mattis’s support for NATO, is hugely encouraging, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that some of the less than helpful remarks the President might have made about NATO in recent weeks and months are actually quite a useful wake-up call to NATO? We need to modernise some aspects of the administration of NATO, and we need to say to our NATO partners that they have to step up to the mark and pay their 2% like we do.

Exactly. The new President has called for NATO members to fulfil the commitments we agreed—the UK and the United States agreed—back at the Wales summit in 2014. A number of other NATO members still have a long way to go to meet the 2% target. We also agree with the new President that we need to continue to modernise NATO to make it effective as a response and as a deterrent.

What is the Defence Secretary’s attitude to the prospect of the US conducting joint operations with Russia in Syria, an idea floated by the President?

The United States and Russia already have an understanding on operations in Syria that they will de-conflict their air operations. Our own aircraft, where they are in similar areas, are covered by that understanding. We see no plans from the American Government, inside the coalition, to co-operate more fully with Russia.

Cover to the Baltic states has been extended to Romania, given Russia’s direct threat to that country. What reassurance can the Defence Secretary give to the Baltic states, which are very nervous about an assertive and aggressive Russia?

That is why we agreed, at Warsaw last summer, to deploy troops to all three Baltic states. Britain will be leading the enhanced forward presence by deploying a battalion there in Estonia, and contributing troops to the American battalion deployed in Poland, to deter Russia from any further aggression towards those countries.

This weekend, we have been shocked and appalled by the US President’s decision to impose a blanket travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority nations. To do this on Friday, which was Holocaust Memorial Day, only adds to the horror and outrage that we feel. Has the Secretary of State made clear to his US counterparts that there is no place for such measures in the fight against terrorism, and that such actions only inflame tensions and risk losing valuable allies, such as Iraq, who are with us in the fight against Daesh?

The hon. Lady and indeed the House may have the opportunity to discuss this matter a little later on, when a statement is made more formally about immigration policy, but let me be very clear that we look forward to working with a new United States Administration on the battle against Daesh. That includes, of course, measures to prevent and reduce radicalisation.

Many of us have also been embarrassed by and ashamed of our Prime Minister, who for all her rhetoric on Britain leading the world, decided to hold Trump’s hand instead of holding him to account. Her belated and limp reply of “We do not agree” was pathetic, especially when compared with Chancellor Merkel, who spelled out that even the necessary and determined fight against terrorism does not justify placing people of a certain origin or belief under general suspicion. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that if President Trump issues defence-related Executive orders that infringe national law or are an affront to humanity, the UK Government’s response will be prompt, robust and unequivocal?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister conducted a very prompt and successful visit to the United States, and was able to secure from the new President a 100% commitment to the NATO alliance and to work with him on a number of the issues that we deal with jointly, including the coalition against Daesh.