As we shape the open international order of the future and promote our interests globally, we are investing an additional £24 billion in active and modernised armed forces. That will not only place defence at the heart of global Britain’s protection but project the UK as a force for good in the world—from our work to build democratic institutions to the building of capacity in our partners’ armed forces and the delivery of an expanded defence diplomatic network, alongside historic investment in research and development. Perhaps nothing better embodies our ambition than the deployment this weekend of the carrier strike group, which will be working on all those things over the next six months.
I welcome the maiden voyage of the UK carrier strike group, which set off this weekend. It is NATO’s first fifth-generation carrier strike capability and will join a number of NATO exercises along the route. Will the Minister outline how that demonstrates the Prime Minister’s commitment to Britain remaining NATO’s key European ally? How will it advance our collective security in the Euro-Atlantic region?
In the past few weeks the carrier strike group has participated in Exercise Strike Warrior and in the next few weeks it will participate in Exercise Steadfast Defender, but that is not the totality of the Royal Navy effort in the Euro-Atlantic in the next few weeks. Indeed, the littoral response group north is sailing for the Baltic, where she will participate over the next few weeks in Baltops. This is not a flash in the pan: the Royal Navy and the rest of our armed forces are committed all year round to showing that Euro-Atlantic security is the absolute bedrock of the United Kingdom’s security.
I welcome what the Minister has said and wish well all the sailors, soldiers and air personnel who have set sail as part of the carrier strike group’s maiden deployment. Does my hon. Friend agree that the deployment, which will visit more than 40 countries and undertake more than 70 engagements, will deliver our ambition to increase our interoperability and burden-sharing with our allies around the world?
Over the weekend my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence visited the carrier strike group, as did Her Majesty the Queen on Saturday, and I know that the carrier strike group personnel will be further delighted by the good wishes sent by so many in the House today. Over the next six months they will fly the nation’s flag in all corners of the world and I am sure they will do so with great style and skill. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the deployment as the embodiment of so much of what is in the defence Command Paper. Over the next few years we all look forward to this being not the first but the latest in a sequence of events of similar importance that project global Britain around the world.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Cuts to armed forces numbers will affect Britain’s influence around the globe. The former Defence Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), appeared before the Defence Committee on 11 May and said that “no one” could explain the rationale for the size of the defence cuts. Does the Minister agree with his former colleague?
No. As the carrier strike group sets sail and the littoral response group sets out for the Baltic, as our soldiers in Mali and Afghanistan show what great jobs they have been doing there, and as our Air Force continues to contribute to NATO air-policing missions, alongside the fantastic work it does to support the rest of our deployments around the world, I can see a rapidly transforming set of armed forces that are better equipped and better able to meet the needs of the United Kingdom by responding to threats when they emerge upstream, rather than sitting in the United Kingdom contingent for the fight when it eventually comes.