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NATO Accession: Sweden and Finland

Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2022

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on our support for Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO. I am making this statement on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is attending a meeting of the G20 in Indonesia.

Finland and Sweden submitted their formal applications to join NATO on 18 May this year. Less than 50 days later, accession talks have been completed, and yesterday allies signed the accession protocols for both countries. The UK played a significant role in securing agreement from all NATO allies to this important move, with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary holding numerous discussions with their counterparts. The accession protocols have now been passed to all NATO countries for ratification, and they are being laid in Parliament today under Command Papers CP730 and CP731.

Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They share our principles and values, including liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They share the alliance’s unwavering commitment to international security. They both have years of experience in training and operating with allies and have made significant contributions to NATO-led operations and missions. We work together in the UK-led joint expeditionary force. We value their role in the region and applaud their support for Ukraine.

Their decision to seek NATO membership follows extensive democratic consultations in those countries. It is a mark of the threat that Russia poses to these two countries, who have tried so diligently to remain neutral for so many decades, that they are now applying to join the alliance. We must ensure that they are integrated into NATO as swiftly as possible.

We should aim to complete the ratification process before the summer recess. As things stand, we do not have the 21 sitting days of parliamentary time needed to use section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to ratify. Therefore, in accordance with section 22 of the Act, we believe that the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland should be ratified without the 21-day requirement having been met. This will allow us to demonstrate the importance we attach to our relationship with these two close partners and our wholehearted support for their decision to join NATO.

In May we provided Sweden and Finland with bilateral security guarantees. It is vital that we now bring them under NATO’s article 5 umbrella as swiftly as possible. Their decision to join puts both countries at risk of a potentially aggressive Russian response. Russia has already made numerous threats about the possibility of Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO. Using the process I have set out will enable us to ensure that UK ratification is concluded swiftly and to set a positive example for other NATO members to follow. All 30 allies need to ratify the protocols before Finland and Sweden can join the alliance. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been pushing allied colleagues to complete ratification as soon as possible.

We believe that there is broad cross-party support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The Government are committed to both the principle and practice of parliamentary scrutiny of the UK treaties. However, due to the unprecedented circumstances in which Finland and Sweden have made their decision to apply for NATO membership, it is important that we do all we can to expedite their accession.

A strong NATO is at the heart of our ability to deter and defend against adversaries. We showed the strength of the alliance once again at the NATO summit in Madrid last week. NATO is not involved directly in the Ukraine conflict, but we know that Ukraine’s ultimate victory is vital for our security. Russia’s illegal and barbaric war cannot succeed. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week that the UK is providing a further £1 billion of military support for Ukraine, and other allies are stepping up their support as well.

At the summit, leaders also agreed a new NATO strategic concept, which responds to the new security environment. It rightly identifies Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security, and it signals a decisive change in our approach to defending the eastern flank, through scaling up capabilities and force readiness to achieve deterrence by denial. For the first time the strategic concept also addresses China and the systemic challenges to our collective security that it poses. It is right that NATO takes an increasingly global perspective of the threats and challenges we face. The alliance should act as a bulwark to the authoritarianism and aggression that we see rising across the world.

Given this more dangerous and competitive landscape, we are calling on all allies to meet, and to be prepared to exceed, the target we set ourselves a decade ago of spending 2% of GDP on defence. That goal was set for a very different era, and we need to be ready to go further. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that the UK is likely to be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.

We are determined to strengthen NATO as the No. 1 guarantor of Euro-Atlantic security and, through the alliance, to stand up for freedom, sovereignty and self-determination around the world. The accession of Finland and Sweden will further strengthen NATO and bolster our security. By ratifying the accession protocols without delay we will send a message of unity against Russian aggression and a message of support to Finland and Sweden. We look forward to welcoming these two long-standing friends to NATO. We will continue to stand side by side with all allies in defence of our shared values and our collective security. Therefore, I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO is an historic decision that is wholeheartedly welcomed by the Labour party. Finland and Sweden will be valuable members of this alliance of democracies that share the values of freedom and the rule of law and that seek peace through collective security.

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is a turning point for Europe. As we strengthen UK and European security, it is more important than ever to do so alongside our allies. The great post-war Labour Government was instrumental in the creation of NATO and the signing of the North Atlantic treaty in 1949. Seven decades later, the alliance remains the cornerstone of our defence, and Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable.

I have visited both Finland and Sweden in recent months to discuss the consequences of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. I have seen the careful, considered and democratic approach that the Governments of both countries have taken to this new security context. They saw the need to think anew and to reassess the assumptions of the past. I pay tribute to the Swedish and Finnish Foreign Ministers, Ann Linde and Pekka Haavisto, for their roles in stewarding this process. It is a remarkable illustration of the dangers that Putin poses that Sweden and Finland have reversed their long-held policies of non-alignment. But is it also a demonstration of the way that Russia’s attack on Ukraine has had the opposite effect from what was intended—strengthening rather than weakening NATO, unifying rather than dividing the alliance. As the recent Madrid summit demonstrated, NATO is responding resolutely to the threat Russia poses and adapting to the challenges of the future.

I do note, though, that although Finland and Sweden and many other NATO allies, including Germany, have reassessed their defence planning in this new context, the UK has not. Labour, in government, did exactly that after the 9/11 attacks, introducing the longest sustained real-terms increase in spending for two decades. We believe that the Government should reboot defence plans and halt cuts to the Army, as we have been arguing for months. We also believe that it is important to deepen our security co-operation with our European allies and the EU, as a complement to NATO’s role as the bedrock of Euro-Atlantic security.

Turning to the mechanism of ratification, in normal circumstances we would rightly expect the House to have appropriate time to consider and consent to the ratification of an international treaty of this importance. But these are not normal circumstances, and there are clear risks to both countries from a drawn-out accession process, so we recognise the need for the Government to act with haste in these exceptional circumstances.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for keeping me up to date on that particular matter, and for the Government’s decision to come to update the House today. It provides an opportunity for the whole House to send a united message of support to our new allies and I hope it will encourage other NATO partners to move swiftly in the ratification process too. Putin has sought division, but has only strengthened Europeans’ unity and NATO’s resolve. We stand together in defence of democracy and the rule of law.

I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for his words. We stand together united across this House in providing support to Ukraine and in standing against Russia’s illegal aggression. We are also united today in providing support to our allies in Finland and Sweden and using this exceptional process—I believe it is the first time it has ever been used—to fast-track this House’s approval of their accession. By doing so, we send a strong message that this House will always stand for freedom and democracy and against aggression. I remind him that we are on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this decade.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for announcing this to the House. It has been an important negotiation and conversation over recent weeks and months. My own meetings with the Prime Minister of Finland and the Foreign Minister of Sweden have been important in assuring me that their commitment is real and that this agreement is fundamental not just to their security, but to ours.

Let us not forget what this is about. NATO is not an overseas adventure; it is fundamentally about the defence of the homes we are lucky to live in and the neighbours and friends we are lucky to live beside. It is about defending the whole of the United Kingdom, all of our coast and, especially in the case of Finland and Sweden, the high north and the Scottish coasts and islands that are so important to the integrity of the United Kingdom. It is fundamentally about defence of the realm.

I pay enormous tribute to my hon. Friend and the whole Foreign Office team who have got this negotiation over the line. Will she now, however, engage in conversations with our Swedish and Finnish partners to ensure that our interoperability goes much deeper, not just into equipment purchase, so that we can end the war in Ukraine quickly and before the winter starts putting extra costs on families across our country?

Madam Deputy Speaker, could I ask you a favour? One of the Finnish Ministers is actually in this place and is trying to get access to one of the Galleries, but because we have been rather full they have not been able to get through the House authorities. I am sure all my colleagues would like to welcome the Minister to come and listen. Could you possibly ask for that?

Oh, she is there. I therefore welcome Minister Johanna Sumuvuori, who is here for the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief. I say to her: we welcome you very much to hear this historic moment as well. Thank you for being with us, and we stand with Finland and Sweden.

In response to the specific questions the Chair of the Select Committee asked, Sweden and Finland have been working with NATO for many years, as I outlined. That is one reason why they have been able to accede to NATO within such a short period of time. They have already met the criteria for NATO membership, and I am sure we will look to work with them as closely as possible during the period between now and the vote, and even more closely once they become full members.

I too thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is a pleasure to see her in her place, although I should point out there are still nine and a half resigning hours until “Newsnight”. More seriously, it is important to stress where we agree, and the SNP agrees with the UK Government’s position in welcoming the applications, from a position of self-determination and democratic sovereignty, of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. I also welcome our Finnish colleague to the Gallery and pledge the SNP’s support for a speedy accession process into NATO. Finland and Sweden will be very welcome; they will augment the alliance, and we support that.

We also support the expedited approval process within this House that the Minister proposes under section 22 of the 2010 Act. I stress that that is not a precedent or a blank cheque, but, as the Minister says, the circumstances match that case and very much merit the suspension of normal procedures. We also support NATO’s strategic concept from an SNP perspective and believe NATO is the cornerstone of European defence. We look forward, under our worldview, to seeing an independent Scotland joining the 29 out of 32 non-nuclear NATO member states—that is, of course, a different discussion.

We on the SNP Benches are NATO supporters. While we support the strategic concept, since the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee made wider points it is also worth mentioning the EU’s strategic compass, which is moving at light speed. The EU is developing a much stronger unified defence capability. The UK risks missing out on those negotiations and the UK defence industry and defence operations risk missing those co-ordinations. I reiterate our call for a deep and comprehensive UK-EU strategic defence treaty, as well as augmenting the NATO alliance. We support what the Minister presents today, and I thank her for the statement.

While I support the hon. Gentleman’s sharing our joint approach to accession by Sweden and Finland and his approval of the fast-track process we are laying in exceptional circumstances, I do not treat our national security as a joking matter, and it is not the time to be cracking jokes when we are talking about our national security. I am very pleased that the Scottish nationalists have just said that they support NATO, although how they can say that they support our national security when they do not support our nuclear deterrent is deeply questionable.

Of course this is a hugely welcome announcement and one of the more significant moments in the history of the NATO alliance, not least because Sweden and Finland bring a huge military contribution to the alliance, so this cannot in any way be seen as a one-way street. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as important as it is to talk about hardware—Finland and Sweden are able to supply several icebreakers, with climate change and the high north’s opening up—cyber-defence is one of the biggest issues? It is very difficult to identify where cyber-attacks come from. It would probably be quite easy to make one appear to come from this place, and who would we retaliate against? Does she agree that the offer that Finland and Sweden can make to the NATO alliance is vital, but also that the position and power we have in this country to help to stop cyber-attacks and defend those nations is equally important in this long-lasting, world-beating defence alliance?

I know my right hon. Friend makes an important contribution in the discussions he often has with NATO colleagues. He rightly points to one of the many reasons why it is so important that Finland and Sweden should be enabled to accede to NATO as quickly as possible. That is why the UK is going to push a faster approval process than is normal, and why we encourage our NATO allies to also ratify as quickly as possible.

Of course I completely support Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO. Indeed, I remember having conversations with Alexander Stubb back in 2009, trying to persuade him to put this matter more firmly on the agenda for Finland. However, one of my anxieties around NATO is that my Ukrainian friends have been telling me that the lethal equipment that is being provided by different countries around Europe comes in 34 different shapes and sizes, with 34 different manuals. Would it not be much more sensible, if we are really to make sure that Putin does not win, to have an industrial strategy to ensure that the equipment provided to Ukraine is usable by the Ukrainians and does not require 34 different training sessions?

I remind the House that the UK has played an absolutely central role in providing military assistance to Ukraine. Indeed, only last week the Prime Minister announced a further £1 billion-worth of military support to Ukraine, and we will be adding additional cutting-edge multiple launch rocket systems. On training, which is important, over the past decade we have trained over 22,000 Ukrainian troops. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about making sure that, where possible, there is a joint approach in the support for Ukraine, but I also point him to what was agreed at the Madrid summit last week, which was a historic agreement by all NATO partners to step up support for Ukraine and to provide it with advice, training and equipment.

I draw attention to my entry in the register.

I very much welcome this statement. Does the Minister recognise that notwithstanding Sweden and Finland’s non-aligned status, since 1997 they, along with Austria, have been active participants in NATO’s Partnership for Peace? Will she pay tribute to that programme and say which other members of Partnership for Peace she anticipates making similar overtures in the near future?

As I said in my opening remarks, Finland and Sweden have been working very closely with NATO for a considerable period. On other partners, every country has its own path towards NATO membership, and no third party has a say in that process. Ukraine, among other countries, is currently an enhanced opportunity partner, and NATO remains firmly committed to the open-door policy. I cannot be more specific at this point.

My constituents know all about NATO, for two reasons: first, because the regular Exercise Joint Warrior is partly carried out in the north-west of Sutherland; and secondly, because Russian naval units are not terribly far over the horizon from my northernmost-on-the-British-mainland constituency. Therefore, on behalf of my party, I absolutely welcome the accession of Sweden and Finland. My party is internationalist in outlook, so does the Minister agree that co-operation with not only NATO but other organisations—the World Trade Organisation, the EU or whatever—can only enhance this country’s hand and position in the world?

I know the hon. Gentleman’s constituency well. I have had the opportunity of standing in some of the beautiful parts of it and seeing overhead some of the actions of our own forces, and I understand how close his constituents sometimes feel to our allies just the other side of the North sea, as well as their concerns. I welcome the fact that he and his party stand with us on supporting the succession process. We have been working very closely with many international partners on support for Ukraine and standing up against Russian aggression. Indeed, only yesterday I was in the European Parliament meeting some of my former colleagues from many countries, many of whom praised our Prime Minister for the leadership he has taken globally on the issue of Russia and Ukraine. We must prioritise NATO as an important contributor to our defence and our strategic defence, and that is the topic that we are discussing today—but yes, we talk to other organisations as well.

Will the Minister recognise with me the work of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe for the lobbying that we have undertaken of the Turkish delegation to get Turkey to change its mind over the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work leading Parliament’s delegation to the Council of Europe, which I heard being praised yesterday when I was in Strasbourg. We welcome the fact that agreement was reached by all members of NATO. The alliance’s strength is that it requires consensus. The end result—Finland and Sweden joining the alliance—is something to celebrate, and we encourage all members to ratify as quickly as possible.

The statement is almost low-key given this extraordinary moment in NATO history, especially for Finland and Sweden, whose accession I of course support. We should not underestimate this massive change in policy. The world, not just Europe, faces an extraordinary threat from what Russia is doing, not just in Ukraine but elsewhere. Aligned with that, the Government must take a decision to increase defence spending, capability and personnel numbers in the armed forces—I suggest that the Minister looks at the Defence Secretary’s comments in reply to my questions in yesterday’s Select Committee meeting—quickly in response to the threat that we now face

The hon. Member is absolutely right that, after many decades of Finland and Sweden standing as neutral countries, this is an extraordinary moment. They have joined NATO because it is their future and they have chosen to. Indeed, they have gone through a very significant democratic process in order to make that decision. Fundamentally, they are coming together because the world is united in condemnation of Russia’s brutal attack, so we must absolutely stand with them. I refer the hon. Member to what I said about the Government’s commitment to increasing spend to 2.5% by the end of the decade. As a member of the Defence Committee, he will have many an occasion to discuss this more specifically with colleagues from the Ministry of Defence.

I also welcome Sweden’s and Finland’s membership of NATO, which will boost European security. Does the Minister agree that it sends a clear message to aggressors such as Putin that any invasion of other countries will only strengthen international opposition to them?

My hon. Friend is spot on. NATO membership is key in promoting the rule of law. It is the most successful defensive alliance in history, and bringing Finland and Sweden into the NATO family will make it even stronger. That is exactly the opposite of what Russia thought it would achieve, but it is what is being achieved. This is a positive force for good for the world.

I thank the Minister for her statement: it is great that Sweden and Finland will be joining NATO. However, will her Government halt their cuts to our Army? We now have the smallest British Army for 300 years. We need to increase the size of our armed forces, not make the cut of 10,000 troops that the Government are still pushing through.

I refer again to what I said about being on track to spend 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade. The hon. Member will have to discuss the details with the Defence Secretary and his team. It is important to remember, however, that we also need to invest for the long term in vital capabilities such as future combat air and AUKUS, as well as adapting to a more dangerous and competitive world. We need to be able to have these forward-looking alternatives as well.

I declare an interest, not only as the chairman of the British-Swedish all-party parliamentary group, but as someone who has been an active proponent of closer British-Swedish relations for some time. We have rightly praised the hard work that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done to expedite the accession of Sweden and Finland, but I also pay tribute to the Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, who has done incredible work within Sweden to change, in a few short months, its official posture—held for more than 200 years—of non-military alignment, and to gain support within her party, Parliament and the Swedish population. Does my hon. Friend agree that she deserves a lot of credit for what she has been able to do?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I praise not only the Swedish leadership but that of Finland. I know that he pays close attention to the affairs of Sweden, a country for which he has strong personal affection, and I know that as a former serving member of the Royal Navy, he pays close attention to what happens on our seas and therefore across our North sea.

I thank the Minister for her statement. Like many others, I absolutely condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What steps are being taken to engage an interlocutor, through the United Nations or some other world body, to try to bring about a ceasefire so that lives may be saved, both of the people in Ukraine and conscripted Russian soldiers, and at least a cessation of fighting in the war before some ultimate political settlement? All wars end with a political settlement. The killing is appalling and refugee flows are terrible. Surely we must talk the language of peace, as well as the language she has put forward this morning.

Russia started this illegal war. Ever since it started, we have continually—day in, day out—asked Russia to lay down its weapons and stop this illegal, brutal and horrible war. Russia must lay down its weapons, and we will continue to call, with our allies and friends around the world, for that ceasefire that everybody so much wants.

Although not in the circumstances that any of us would have wanted, the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO is, as the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) rightly said, a hugely significant event in the development of our own security and that of our friends and neighbours. As we go through the ratification process, speed will be of the essence for the other 29 countries also going through that process. Can my hon. Friend the Minister say any more about how long the overall process will take? In the meantime, will there be parallel planning to ensure that once Finland and Sweden come into NATO, we are up and running around the interoperability and integration of those nations into the alliance, so that they can benefit as much from it as possible, and we from them?

NATO remains firmly committed to the open door policy, but bringing another country into NATO requires all 30 members—now more—to agree, because it works by consensus. On increasing NATO capabilities, we are significantly increasing the availability of UK forces to NATO, which will include the majority of our maritime forces, extra air squadrons and increasing the number of land brigade-sized units.

I do not often agree with the Minister, and that will not be a surprise, but my goodness, I agree with her today, wholeheartedly. Our support for the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO is unqualified, and why would it not be, given their adherence to and prioritising of liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as the Minister said? Interestingly, they are also non-nuclear armed, and they will be non-nuclear hosting. They have a proud martial tradition going back many hundreds of years, which is integral to their society, and they have a diverse and extensive military industrial complex employing thousands and generating billions, alongside outstanding capability. That could also 100% describe Scotland, so with independence, what is to stop Scotland joining NATO also?

I believe, and this Government believe, that our country’s defence is stronger when we are united as one nation. I also believe that core to our defence is our nuclear deterrent.

I agree with the statement that the Minister has made. It is vital that Ukraine wins this war, both militarily and domestically, and that the alliance is strengthened, and I am pleased to see Finland and Sweden joining. I am, however, concerned about reports of the Kurds being used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. We have abandoned the Kurds far too many times in history. Can the Minister offer reassurances that we will continue to support the YPG and the YPJ in north-east Syria, where they have defeated ISIS, that we will not buckle under the demands to treat them as a terrorist organisation—they are its opposite, an anti-terrorist organisation—and that we will continue to push the Turkish Government, as a NATO member, to pursue democratic reforms rather than democratic persecution?

We welcome the agreements made at the Madrid summit last week. These brought together all members, by consensus, to agree to Norway and Sweden joining. That involves discussions with every single one of NATO’s members.

We all cannot overstate the significance or momentousness of this announcement. Many of us will have lived through the many decades of the cold war and will appreciate that for Sweden and Finland to be making this decision now underlines the seriousness of the situation. I welcome the announcement from NATO to increase its high-readiness force from 40,000 to 300,000, but I have concerns, as mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), that by reducing our Army’s personnel by 10,000, we are reducing it to a smaller capacity than the US Marine Corps. Will she agree with Labour that we must halt those cuts immediately?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for what has been agreed at the Madrid summit. It was a truly historic summit. It not only made huge progress in bringing Finland and Sweden into joining NATO, but agreed a new strategic concept and a paradigm shift in the security environment, and allies significantly strengthened NATO’s deterrence and defence. As I have already pointed out, the UK is making significant contributions to enhance our contribution to NATO.

I thank the Minister very much for the statement. Recent news that the 30 member countries of NATO have signed accession protocols for Sweden and Finland to join have been welcomed, and that news makes the world a safer place today. They also have greater access to intelligence in relation to Russia and the aggression that it espouses. Will the Minister ensure that we continue to have a clear commitment to protect Sweden and Finland in the short term, as well as the long term, against the aggressive intrusion of Putin and the Russian Government?

I completely agree with the hon. Member that Finland and Sweden joining NATO makes the world a safer place for the people of the United Kingdom, for all our NATO allies and for all those who are concerned about Russian aggression and what Ukraine means for the potential future of their country. That is why we will continue to stand with like-minded partners across the world to defend democracy and freedom, and that is why the House is united in ensuring that the ratification of the accession passes as swiftly as possible through the fast-track procedure at this truly exceptional time. We stand united with all those parties who agree to it.