To ask the Minister to make a statement on the UK’s and NATO’s military commitment to Ukraine.
Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked, premeditated attack against a sovereign democratic state that threatens global security. As set out to the House previously, the United Kingdom and NATO stand with Ukraine. We are providing political and practical support to support its self-defence, and will further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture. Individual NATO allies, led by the UK, are also supporting Ukraine with lethal aid to ensure that Ukraine wins.
The United Kingdom was the first country to provide lethal aid, and we have increased our military and aid support, bringing the total budget to £1.3 billion. To date, we have sent over 6,900 anti-tank missiles; five air defence systems, including Starstreak anti-air missiles; 120 armoured fighting vehicles, including a small number of Stormers; 1,360 anti-structure munitions; 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives; and 400,000 rounds of small-arms munitions. In addition, we have supplied over 200,000 items of non-lethal aid, including more than 82,000 helmets; more than 8,000 body armour kits; range finders; and medical equipment. As announced on 6 June 2022, we are providing cutting edge multiple-launch rocket systems, which can strike targets up to 80 kilometres away with pinpoint accuracy, offering a significant boost in capability to the Ukrainian armed forces. On 17 June, the Prime Minister offered to launch a major training operation for Ukrainian forces, with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every three months—120 days.
We are currently supplying significant air power to NATO, including increased air patrols, with both Typhoons and F-35s for NATO air policing. We have also deployed four additional Typhoons to Cyprus to patrol NATO’s eastern border. That means that we now have a full squadron of Royal Air Force fighter jets in southern Europe, ready to support NATO tasking. The United Kingdom has contributed more troops than any other ally to NATO’s enhanced forward presence. UK troops will also be deploying a company-sized sub-unit to Bulgaria to work bilaterally alongside our Bulgarian counterparts for up to six months, enhancing interoperability. The PM will meet NATO leaders again for next week’s Madrid summit, where NATO will agree the new strategic concept to set the direction of the alliance for the next decade and will agree long-term improvements to our deterrence and defence posture in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The United Kingdom’s commitment to the alliance and European security is unconditional and enduring. Our commitment to article 5 of the Washington treaty is iron clad. We stand ready to defend our allies.
First, may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the flag-raising ceremony that you hosted today to mark Armed Forces Week?
The Prime Minister was right to visit Ukraine last week. The UK has been an exemplar in our support to that country compared with many of our NATO allies. But Russia is not losing and Ukraine is not winning. The Prime Minister said, “Prepare for a long war”, and the new head of the British Army seeks to reconfigure our land forces to potentially face Russia on the battlefield. This all starkly illustrates that long-term European security is threatened not just by the utility of force but a wider conflict between the west and growing authoritarianism.
However, future generations may ask of NATO, “Why did you not put that fire out in Ukraine when you could have?”—by securing the port of Odesa, for example, rather than instead allowing Putin to claim a win and take his fight elsewhere. The penny is dropping in this regard. If we now recognise that our world is becoming more dangerous, Britain should lead a coalition of the willing that offers Ukraine the scale of support that it requires. Recognising this new picture requires us to review our own defence posture. We can certainly be proud of what Britain has done in upgrading its battle presence in the Baltics, leading the way in training Ukrainians and providing lethal weapons systems, but I say to the Minister that the tempo of these duties is unsustainable. We are overloading our troops with those widening commitments and we are not replenishing our defence stocks fast enough. All three services are now too small to manage the ever-greater burden that we are going to place on them. The cuts set out in the 2021 integrated review to personnel and military equipment must now be reversed.
Does the Minister agree that once again, Britain finds itself leading other European allies in spelling out the scale of the threat that the continent now faces, and stepping forward when other nations hesitate to confront that threat? We cannot do that on a peacetime defence budget of 2.2%; it is time to upgrade our defence posture and spending to 3% if we are serious about preventing the spread of conflict in Europe.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to some of my right hon. Friend’s points. He said that Russia is not losing in Ukraine, with which I would take issue. I think that Russia is losing and that it was losing from the point of invasion. Its catastrophic losses in the west of the country and the way that it has had to refocus in the east describe that strategic loss, so I disagree with him on that.
Our domestic response will always be threat-based. My right hon. Friend made some remarks about whether NATO forces should have been deployed to Ukraine in anticipation of the Russian invasion. Our judgment is—and collectively, everyone would judge—that we got the balance right between providing reassurance and effect, while avoiding the direct conflict that would have resulted immediately from putting NATO forces directly into Ukraine.
As I said, we are a threat-based organisation. In making the argument for defence expenditure, we need to understand that there are three basic points of context that I ask my right hon. Friend to take note of. First, we do everything as part of the NATO alliance. We are one of a 30-member defensive alliance—soon to be 32—and because of that, we are a great deal stronger than we are separately. One of the significant lessons for the Russian military machine is how exposed it is by being alone. We are stronger as an alliance; as an alliance, we massively outnumber any kind of effect the Russians can bring to bear.
Secondly, it is important to recognise that we acknowledged the significant threat posed by Russia as part of our defence Command Paper, which came out of the integrated review and was released in March 2021; many right hon. and hon. Members will have read it. Page 5, paragraph 1.4 leads with the fact that
“Russia continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security.”
In terms of our doctrine and our response, that is not new to UK national defence. That is a really important contextual thing to understand.
Thirdly, that is why we are making good use of the £24-billion uplift that we have had under this Government, which is driving forward the agility, deployability and lethality that we need in the new global context. Manifold lessons will be drawn from the outrageous Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the vulnerability of armour and of large bodies of troops; the potency of technology and remote fires; and the urgent importance of having a fully modernised military with match-fit technology. That is what the integrated review and the defence Command Paper do.
We have more money than we have ever had—£24 billion more than we would have had otherwise. We will always keep things under review, but we should be confident that doctrinally and militarily, in terms of kit and equipment, we are on the right lines.
Today marks day 117 since Russia began its brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine. It is now a grim, grinding war of attrition. NATO’s Secretary-General warned last week that the alliance
“must prepare for the fact that it could take years.”
Everything that can be done must be done to help to maintain the Ukrainian military’s morale, weaponry and personnel. The Government will continue to have Labour’s full support in the military assistance they provide to Ukraine.
In April, when responding to the Defence Secretary’s statement in this House, I urged the Government to move to supply
“the new NATO weapons that Ukraine will need for Putin’s next offensive”.—[Official Report, 25 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 463.]
In these last two months, what NATO-standard stock has been supplied from the UK to Ukraine, and how many new contracts for missiles or ammunition production have the MOD now managed to sign and start?
On Friday, as the Minister said, the Prime Minister offered to train 10,000 new Ukrainian soldiers every three months. This is exactly what is needed. Did President Zelensky accept Britain’s offer? Will these Ukrainian recruits be trained in Britain? Which other NATO nations will be involved in such training?
As we mark the start of Armed Forces Week, the Labour leader and I had the privilege of visiting NATO’s maritime command and our UK Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood this morning. We wanted to thank our personnel for the service they give to our national and NATO commitments. However, there are serious growing concerns about the UK meeting its NATO commitments, with the failure to reboot defence plans in response to Ukraine, delays to a fully modern warfighting division until 2030, continued uncertainty over Ajax and, of course, further deep cuts to Army numbers.
The new head of the Army said in an internal message to troops last week that
“there is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle”,
so why are Ministers pushing ahead with plans to cut another 10,000 soldiers? When will they halt these cuts, and when will they start to rebuild the strength of the British Army to meet the threats that our country and our NATO allies face?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s questions and, as ever, we are grateful for the support of the Opposition for our Ukraine defence policy.
To go straight to the questions, new contracts are under discussion. The Minister for Defence Procurement and the Prime Minister had a meeting this morning, which was the latest in a series of discussions about escalating the supply of NATO-standard equipment, which is very important.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about training, and that was a very significant result of the Prime Minister’s visit last week. I think the Defence Secretary also had some discussions. Not being privy to those discussions, it is not appropriate for me to speculate about their content at the Dispatch Box. However, I can say that the reference point for the UK’s contribution will be the remarkably successful Operation Orbital, which has trained some 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers since 2014. We have a long and deep heritage of working very closely and successfully with our Ukrainian allies, and I think that will be a very good basis on which to conduct future training support. As to which NATO allies may be involved, I cannot confirm that, but I would say that NATO, by disposition, tends to work in alliance, so I suspect other nations to be involved.
I am glad for the update about the right hon. Gentleman’s visit to PJHQ, but I would ask him to be a bit more optimistic about our absolute resolve to meet our commitments. This is about a disposition in which we are absolutely resolute to be agile and to strain every sinew to deliver at pace the technological and military revolution necessary to make ourselves more lethal, agile and deployable around the world than ever before. For too long, the measurement of our military capability has been about men and vehicles in garrisons, rather than our ability to project power, and that is something that we are absolutely confident we are getting right.
To prove the point, the fact the Chief of the General Staff is mentioning Russia demonstrates that, since March last year, this has been part of our job done. That is nothing new, and under the leadership that we are showing and with the determination for us to change and embrace modern technology as part of our ability to deliver lethal effect, we are getting to a point where we are more match fit than ever before to counter Russian aggression.
As the expenditure on all the equipment that we have rightly been supplying is operational, will the Minister confirm that it is coming from the Treasury reserve and not from the normal annual defence budget? I gently remind him and the House that, in the first half of the 1980s, we were spending not 2.3% or even 3% of GDP on defence; we were spending between 4.7% and 5.1% of GDP on defence.
Given the evolution of the war in Ukraine, what lessons has the Ministry of Defence learned about the enduring need for infantry to take, hold and/or defend territory? Will those lessons be input to a refresh of MOD thinking and operational strategy that drove the much-derided 10,000 cut in Army numbers in the integrated review? Those infantry will require to be supported by heavy armour and armoured fighting vehicles, but, given that the UK’s decade-old solution to the latter—Ajax—is an unfathomably challenged £5.5 billion project that is surely now on the brink of being cancelled, how has the war in Ukraine focused the Department’s attention in that regard?
I recently returned from Türkiye, where the Turkish Defence Minister advised NATO parliamentarians on the role that his country is playing in seeking to facilitate safe passage of merchant vessels into and out of Ukraine with grain. What dynamic is the UK playing in that space? Does the Minister agree with the Turkish Minister’s assessment that it is the Ukrainians who—understandably —need persuading of the merits of demining those shipping lanes and ensuring that they do not then fall prey to Russian naval forces? Finally, if agreement is reached on demining, what role will the world-leading mine countermeasure professionals in the Royal Navy, many of whom are based in Scotland, play in demining those approaches to Ukraine?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s questions. The lessons are manifold. One in particular is the vulnerability of armour without significant covering fire and deep fires, and what happens when a combined arms manoeuvre falls apart, particularly due to a complete failure of the moral component. He is attempting to spin that into a lesson purely about numbers of infantry. I draw his attention to the necessity of infantry having protection, mobility and its own fire to protect itself. Anyone of my generation of people in the military will remember deploying unprotected vehicles without a significant ability to manoeuvre and bring on deep fires, especially in a remote way. Those capabilities—the ability for our infantry to be much better protected, more mobile and more lethal—are exactly what we are delivering with the integrated review and the defence Command Paper, and that is a job of work worth doing.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Ajax. The House will be interested to know that we are looking at it with urgent focus, and I am sure that the Minister for Defence Procurement will update the House in due course.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about Turkey and the critical, strategic import of the Black sea with regard to grain exports out of Ukraine, with some 50% being stuck there. I will not speculate about the role of the magnificent Royal Navy or anyone else in the British military, but undoubtedly that will be on the agenda at the NATO summit in Madrid next week.
The UK’s military support for Ukraine has been world-leading, but it is legitimate for us to ask whether we are restocking adequately and quickly enough here in the UK. Will my hon. Friend update us on whether the promised military supplies coming from other European countries have materialised in Ukraine? It is essential that our rhetoric in NATO is matched with actions if we are to remain credible, as both what we say and what we do will be closely monitored in Moscow.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. We are happily operating a new-for-old policy with regard to our own supplies. Further, on the rest of the alliance, there is a sense of great urgency. We are seeking to ensure that the multiple launch rocket system is delivered in good order as soon as possible, and the contribution of the US to that will also be critical. I think that the collective sense of urgency will increase as we come to the NATO summit in Madrid next week.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Chair of the Defence Committee and the shadow Defence Secretary. Unless we are prepared to make a real investment in our Army and the weapons that are required, we cannot supply them to Ukraine. We are not supplying the long-term equipment required in order to attack the Russians coming in; what we are doing is holding back on supporting the Army, which is not good enough. When will we start to look at first of all supporting Poland with NATO to supply the big aircraft that are needed, and how can we move forward on that?
I would disagree entirely with that. The tactical weapon that we have supplied in the form of the NLAW has had a remarkable strategic output. The hon. Gentleman speculates about MiGs and so on, but I do not think that strictly relevant. What is important is the multiple launch rocket system, and it is also important that we respond to Ukraine demand and pay attention to the demand signal. We must follow what the Ukrainians themselves want.
I was proud to hear President Zelensky describe our support as strong and resolute, and Great Britain as being Ukraine’s best friend. That is great stuff.
Does the Minister agree that three risks are associated with what is currently happening in Ukraine? The first is mission creep, which, as always, we must beware of; the second could be some kind of error, in which an American or Russian plane is shot down by mistake, possibly leading to some form of escalation; and the third would be a false-flag operation by the Russians, somehow using that as an excuse to try to drag NATO into the war. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must at all costs avoid NATO’s direct involvement in the war? Support is great; war fighting is not.
I do, and that is a cogent analysis of the attendant risks to this: mission creep, some sort of error, and a false-flag operation. That is why throughout this we have based our response in a bilateral manner. We are clearly paying attention to what other NATO allies are doing, but it is a bilateral provision, which is right and proper. At all times, it has been entirely bespoke in response to what the Ukrainians themselves want, and we are particularly well placed to do that because of our long-term involvement and successful training of Ukrainian forces since 2014. That has led to a good basis and foundation of warm personal relationships across our two respective militaries, which has really borne fruit.
Given that, as has already been mentioned, the new head of the Army said that the UK must
“forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle”,
I found the Minister’s response to the Urgent Question a little complacent. Is he absolutely sure that that can be done, while continuing with the planned cuts of 10,000 to the Army? Many of us are not sure about that.
I am confident. A significant increase in money is delivering new capabilities to make our people more lethal, more agile, and more mobile. That body of work has been under way over the past couple of years, and was expressed in the Defence Command Paper published in March 2021. This is nothing new; we have been at this for a couple of years, and rightly so.
I congratulate the Government on the significant matériel now being provided to Ukraine, but what is their current assessment about the possibility of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine? Will the Minister confirm that plans are in place with our allies to deal with that in the horrific event of their use?
We have all seen the appalling atrocities uncovered in Bucha and Irpin, and there is no doubt that they were perpetrated by Russian forces. Sixty people have also been killed in a school in Luhansk, following Russian shelling. Is it time for the Russian military units, including mercenary groups such as the Wagner Group, with its sinister death squads, to be proscribed as terrorist organisations?
The hon. Member makes a good point, and I agree with the sentiment. We sincerely hope—this is already happening—that these criminals, and they appear to be criminals in many cases, especially in regard to the appalling atrocities being committed and the apparent murder of civilians in Bucha and elsewhere, will be brought before the International Criminal Court. It makes the point that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—that is how we must phrase it—has debased the entire Russian nation and its military. Those involved in it at every level must be held to account.
What does my hon. Friend make of Putin’s increasingly aggressive tone towards Lithuania in relation to the Kaliningrad enclave? Does he agree that one way to approach it would be to accelerate and expedite the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO? Will he do everything in his power to shore up our NATO ally to make sure that Putin’s aggression is met with an appropriate response that will make sure he does nothing against that country, or the consequences will be very severe indeed?
I am grateful for that question, which shows that Putin is losing: his bluster is illustrative of his massive loss of confidence. He thought he was going to get less NATO because of this outrageous invasion, and he is getting more NATO. We very much look forward to Sweden and Finland, and their highly capable militaries, joining the alliance.
This argument of more for less that we are hearing from the Government is what we have heard from them in virtually every area of public expenditure, whether it be the health service, social care or local government services, or the cutting of 21,000 police officers that we were told would not result in a rise in crime, but did. Is the Minister aware that the 10,000 planned cut in troops will result in the smallest Army we have had since 1714? Should the Government not review that in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
The quantity of weaponry required by Ukraine vastly exceeds the amount pledged by NATO allies, and the amount pledged significantly exceeds the amount that has actually been delivered. To take the example that the Minister raised on MLRS, 300 of those systems are estimated to be required and 50 have been pledged, and the United Kingdom has delivered just three. What is our plan and that of our allies—particularly European ones, who simply do not have the stocks of these weapons—to boost production as quickly as possible?
My right hon. Friend should rest assured that every sinew is being strained. I think some of the time has been taken up in the necessary provisions—for example, the operatives need to be trained on target acquisition—so that the proper use of these kind of munitions can be made. This is a top priority, and I hope that the imperative and the fact that we have the NATO conference in Madrid next week will be another lever to expedite this.
The Minister will be aware that people in my constituency hold great admiration for Thales, for the provision of next generation light anti-tank weapons and Starstreak and for the ability for Ukrainians to have the power to defend themselves. Further to that question, it is worthy of further examination. We are providing many platforms to Ukraine where reproduction simply is not possible and where a switch cannot be flicked immediately. Some of these systems have been decommissioned and are not in active production, so how does the Minister expect the House to have confidence in the assertion that what we give we will get back?
What we are doing is ensuring that commercial production is radically accelerated. The hon. Gentleman will know how complex and multifaceted that is. I am not pretending it is easy, but the full effort of the Department and our allies is resolutely focused on this issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for his statement and I praise the additional support we are offering Ukraine. As he said, NATO is the bedrock of our collective security and we have two new nations seeking to become members. I welcome the decisions of the Governments of Sweden and Finland to join, which are completely understandable now we have seen what Putin is capable of. Will my hon. Friend the Minister update the House on what support we will be giving Finland and Sweden as they seek to join the alliance?
That is a very good question. Those discussions are under way. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary visited both countries very recently to initiate those discussions. We have a heritage of quite active training and joint working in Scandinavia, particularly with regard to Norway. I will not speculate or pre-empt any announcement, but I think we will have a very significant schedule of work coming down the line.
As we rightly focus on what is happening in Ukraine, Moldova rightly fears Russian advances along the southern coast of Ukraine, with a possible view to Russia annexing Transnistria in the same way as it annexed Crimea. Given that, what discussions is the Minister having with both Moldovan counterparts and NATO allies to ensure we are ready for that eventuality? How, given that we are likely to be in this for a very, very long time, is he building that coalition so it is stable going forward and we do not do what I suspect Putin wants us to do in the west—to blink, get bored and wander off? We cannot allow that to happen.
We will not allow that to happen. We are increasing our enhanced forward presence, which is very significant. We will be committing a company group into Bulgaria, in addition to our long-standing commitment to Estonia. Other allies will be positioning enhanced forward battalions in other eastern European countries, so collectively, as an alliance, we will be putting our money where our mouth is. That is really important.
Is it not the truth that the Government have been caught out? Systematically, over 10 years, they have been running down our defence capacity. Ten years ago, I said there was a real danger in reducing our overall strength to fewer than 100,000 men and women. The fact of the matter is that we have to send a message to President Putin that we will invest in our defence and increase the number of people in our defence forces, and that we will, in future, take the defence of this country seriously.
We are doing that. We are investing in our defence. The overall defence budget has increased radically. It is £24 billion more than it was in 2019. The bottom line is lethality and improving our capability to deliver effect, not just simple numbers in a barracks. I urge the hon. Gentleman to read the defence Command Paper. He will find it instructive.
The British public are committed and willing to support the brave men and women of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom. We must all remember how important it is that Ukraine wins. They are not just fighting for their freedom; they are fighting for a free world. This conflict may go on for months, or even years and years. It is important that the public are kept thoroughly informed, as their support is key to keeping Ukraine free. Will the Minister commit to ensure that that happens?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. This is turning into a war of attrition. It will last as long as President Putin has the mistaken conviction that, by killing people in the Donbas region and occupying Ukrainian sovereign territory, he is somehow delivering a strategic victory for Russia. He is not. Ultimately, the Russian people, undermined by their leadership, will be the lever to ensure a different direction is taken.
Since 2010, consecutive Conservative Governments have cut our Army by over a third, from over 102,000 to some 80,000, with further cuts planned. I absolutely despair at the Minister’s set-piece answers about changing threats. In the very week when the head of the Army, Sir Patrick Sanders, said that we need to be
“ready to fight and win wars on land”
and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Chair of the Defence Committee, who speaks with deep knowledge of the subject, says that the armed forces are overstretched, will the Minister now commit to rethink, forget the set-piece answers, and actually consider what numbers we need in our armed forces going forward?
We have considered what we need. We have more money than ever before, with an additional £24 billion, which is delivering a more lethal, better protected, more mobile and readier military. It is in the defence Command Paper; we have been at this for a couple of years. The Chief of the General Staff’s remarks are in accordance with that—he agrees with the plan, of course, because he is the head of the Army. It is not about simplistic measurements of numbers of people, but about effect. At long last, we are embracing technology to give our people the most lethal capability, which is what they need.
As we have heard, both Sweden and Finland have made an application to join NATO, but Turkey has said that it may consider delaying those applications for up to a year if its demands are not met. Does the Minister agree that such a response from Turkey in this context is totally unacceptable?
We acknowledge Turkey’s concerns. Work on the matter is led by the Foreign Secretary and others, and I am sure that it will be on the agenda next week in Madrid. My expectation is that those concerns will be resolved in the interests of the alliance as a whole.
It was my pleasure, Mr Speaker.
Members across the House will have seen the recent assessment by the incoming Chief of the General Staff:
“There is now a burning imperative to forge an army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle.”
With those words in mind, and further to the letter that the Secretary of State sent to the Chancellor back in March, is the Minister—who I know thinks about these things very carefully—absolutely certain that there is not a requirement to go back to the Treasury and secure additional resource to ensure that our armed forces are properly prepared and have the capabilities they need to respond to the threats that undoubtedly exist?
Russia has reportedly become China’s biggest oil supplier, following sanctions in the face of the conflict in Ukraine. Can the Minister set out what level of risk is posed by strengthening ties and co-dependency between China and Russia in the immediate and longer term?
That is an interesting question. Clearly the dividend for China in the immediate term is a great deal of much cheaper energy, and I am sure that it will reap the benefit. In the longer term, however, the lesson for China is the willingness of western European nations, together with the US, to stand up for the integrity of sovereign nations. That is something that will not be lost on the Chinese.
Our efforts thus far for the United Kingdom to be a full and comprehensive supporter of Ukraine have been numerous; I appreciate the decisions that have been made. The longer Ukraine fights, however, the more soldiers and equipment it will lose against Russia, which is much larger and better resourced. Has the time now come for us to step forward and do much more with our NATO allies, particularly with Starstreak missiles?
That is a very pertinent question. We are doing much more. The recipe for success is much more energy towards capacity building for the Ukrainians, which is why we are now in active discussions about delivering training to the Ukrainian army. It is a war of attrition, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that it is not bleeding Russian capabilities very badly indeed. The Russian military will try to keep it up for a very long time, but we must not think that this is not hurting them very badly indeed.