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Defence Co-operation

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

2. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in the US Administration on strengthening defence co-operation. (904152)

7. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in the US Administration on strengthening defence co-operation; and if he will make a statement. (904157)

The US and UK enjoy a strategic global partnership, which was forged through shared values and the belief in freedom and the rule of law and order, and reinforced by mutual history, partnership and military co-operation. UK-US defence co-operation is today the broadest, deepest and most advanced of any two countries. Our collaboration extends across the full spectrum of defence, including operations and flagship capability programmes. Our troops have fought alongside each other for more than 100 years, and 2018 will be another busy year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Currently, the UK’s defence trade partnership with the US is worth more than $3 billion and includes collaboration on projects such as the F-35 programme, as well as a common compartment for UK-US ballistic missile submarines. Does he agree that with the UK regaining its ability to strike free trade deals across the globe post Brexit, we have the opportunity to deepen the bonds of our special relationship with the US when it comes to our national defence interests?

We are already one of the world-leading countries in defence exports, and we have to seize the opportunity that exiting the European Union provides to expand our ability to export right around the world, making sure it is absolutely clear that Britain is a world leader in technology and science. So much of what we have historically done with the US we can do more and more right around the globe.

May I implore my right hon. Friend not to listen to the Trump-bashing from Opposition Members? There is absolutely no indication that President Trump is attenuating his commitment to NATO. Furthermore, NATO, not the European Union, is the backbone of this nation’s defence, and my right hon. Friend should be—I know that he is—going out there to Washington and speaking to his counterparts. Will he talk about precisely what he has achieved? [Interruption.] Sorry about that.

I thought my hon. Friend was incredibly eloquent.

Let us be clear that there is one reason why we have had peace right across the continent of Europe since the second world war: NATO, and the fact that it has acted as a deterrent to those who wish to prosecute aggressive campaigns against the west. I am very proud of the work that has been done, and will be done in the future, with our allies.

Will the Secretary of State tell me what the pound-dollar rate was at the time of the commissioning of the F-35 programme, what it is now and how much extra taxpayers’ money is being paid as a result?

I am afraid I not have details of the exchange rates with me, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with them. I can tell him that exchange rate changes over the past few years have cost us about a quarter of a billion pounds extra for the defence budget, as a result of the movement of the pound.

The US nuclear posture review was met with an equal level of posturing by President Putin during his state of the nation speech last Thursday. What is the British Government’s policy response to these worrying developments, as the world slides needlessly into a second cold war? Does the Secretary of State believe the British Government have a role to play in trying to de-escalate the situation?

Let us be really clear: President Putin has been developing a much more hostile and aggressive posture towards the UK, the US and our allies for an awful lot longer than the past 12 months. Russia wants to assert its rights. We have seen increased Russian activity in the north Atlantic—a tenfold increase over the past few years. Do we sit submissively by and just accept that President Putin can do whatever he wishes to do? Or do we have to look at how we respond, making it clear that we are willing to stand up to bullying and the fact that nations are being subjected to attacks by Russia? We need to deal with that, and that is what we will do. That is why I am proud that we have the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.

Will my right hon. Friend inform the House about what discussions he has with his US counterpart, so that we can work together to ensure that our other NATO allies pay the 2% of GDP that they should be paying towards our collective defence?

In this country, I am very proud that we are able to say that we spend 2% of GDP on defence. But we cannot outsource Europe’s defence to the United States: every European country has to play its part in defending Europe. That means spending the money required to defend the borders of western Europe.

I begin by paying tribute to the members of the armed forces who helped their country get moving, inasmuch as it could, over the past week.

How confident can the Secretary of State, his US counterpart or indeed any NATO counterpart be that we can bring to the table what we say we can bring, given that there is a £20 billion funding gap in his Department’s equipment plan?

We are looking at exactly what resources and everything else we need going forward. We carry considerable contingencies in our equipment plan, and we are very confident that we will be able to deliver everything we need for our armed forces.

I am afraid that that is a bit of a “head still in the sand” answer. The National Audit Office said that projects will have to be delayed, scaled back or cancelled. Will the Secretary of State ensure that no project in Scotland will be delayed, scaled back or cancelled?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that we are doing the modernising defence programme. He will also be pleased to hear that we will open up our public consultation as part of that programme. We are going to be looking at all we do—how best we can use our armed forces to deliver for the whole United Kingdom, and how to make sure that we are best protected against the threats from abroad. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to that.