Gavin Williamson: Brexit gives us a unique opportunity to redefine our place in the world
Since security and prosperity go hand in hand, we’re ensuring our Defence industry can grasp the benefits of the post-Brexit world, writes Gavin Williamson
As Defence Secretary, I’ve witnessed first-hand the incredible global work of our Armed Forces. In the Middle East, they’ve helped root out the last remnants of Daesh: our Tornados, Typhoons, and Reapers have released over 4,300 weapons against Daesh targets while our troops trained some 90,000 Iraqis and Kurds.
In Eastern Europe, HMS Echo in the Black Sea and our 800 strong Battle Group in Estonia continue deterring Russian aggression. In Africa, our brave personnel are building hospitals and stopping innocents being used as weapons of war.
This year we’ve also seen our future force take shape. Our mighty HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is up and running. We now have 17 world class Lightning fast jets capable of land-based operations anywhere on the globe. As we mark the 50th anniversary of our continuous-at-sea deterrence, we’ve named three of our next generation nuclear submarines – Dreadnought, Valiant and Warspite.
We have benefitted from an extra £1.8 billion which includes access to £600 million from the Dreadnought contingency, to protect our deterrent’s future. Our budget is rising year-on-year and will hit almost £40bn by 2020/21. And we have a £186 billion equipment plan to bring in the very best ships, aircraft and vehicles.
But the threats are growing. We’re not just wrestling with global terror but the resurgence of state-based dangers like Russia. We’re operating in a grey zone of proxy war, cyber-attack and disinformation. The international-rules-based order upon which our values depend is under pressure. Yet Brexit gives us a unique opportunity to redefine our place in the world and show we remain a global force for good.
How will we confront future challenges and embrace the coming opportunities? First by strengthening and expanding our global presence. Seventy years on from helping found NATO, the UK still leads from the front. We’re upping our contribution to Alliance readiness – including by deploying Apache attack and Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters to Estonia. Our Typhoons have resumed their defence of Baltic skies. And we will keep pressing NATO to adapt to new challenges when Alliance leaders meet in London in December.
Besides bolstering our bilateral ties with like-minded European nations, we’re looking beyond our continent. We’re bolstering our relationship with the United States and other allies. We’re strengthening our friendship with allies in the Indo-Pacific and with African nations – from Nigeria in the West to Kenya in the East. And HMS Montrose, along with five other naval vessels, gives us a permanent presence East of Suez for the first time in decades.
Next, we’re increasing mass in our military. At sea, we’re exploring a new Littoral strike ship concept with the global capacity to deliver anything from war fighting to humanitarian assistance. And we’re augmenting our Future Commando Force of Royal Marines to be forward deployed at exceptionally high readiness. In the air, we’ll have new Typhoon squadrons and networked-enabled drone swarms. On land, we are developing a Warfighting Division with increased firepower and protection that can deploy from bases at home and in Germany.
Finally, we’re using our new multi-million-pound Transformation Fund to increase our lethality. Giving all our troops the same night vision equipment as Special Forces alongside pioneering robotic fighting and logistic vehicles.
Since security and prosperity go hand in hand, we’re ensuring our Defence industry can grasp the benefits of the post-Brexit world. The UK Defence sector is the world’s second largest exporter of equipment, has an annual turnover of £22 billion and supports some 260,000 jobs directly and indirectly. That world-class expertise is why the UK is now the Global Repair Hub for Lightning fast jets and why we recently secured a further £500 million of work.
But we’re going further. Establishing a new Defence Technology Exploitation Programme pilot in Northern Ireland so smaller companies can find new routes to market. Creating an Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute, alongside the Defence Electronics and Components Agency and the Welsh Government, so North Wales remains a hub of aerospace expertise.
We’re optimistic about our future. Our Armed Forces and our Defence industry are world beaters. We’re opening up post-Brexit opportunities, so they can keep delivering peace and prosperity for all.
Gavin Williamson is Conservative MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Defence