Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that the UK is ready to increase its global defence presence after it leaves the European Union.
Speaking at a Royal United Services Institute on Monday, Williamson said the UK will be “ready where necessary to use hard power to defend its global interests”, including clamping down on aggressive behaviour and strengthening key alliances.
Williamson said: “We will build new alliances, rekindle old ones and most importantly make it clear that we are the country that will act when required. We should be the nation that people turn to when the world needs leadership.”
Brexit “an opportunity”
In the speech, Williamson said that Brexit is an opportunity for the UK to rediscover its role as a leader in global defence, and not a sign that the UK is retreating from the international stage.
“Inevitably, there are those who say that we are in retreat. Those who believe that as we leave the European Union, we turn our back on the world,” said Williamson.
“But this could not be further from the truth. Whether people voted leave or remain, they believe that Britain must play an important and major role on the international stage. It is my belief that Britain has its greatest opportunity in 50 years to redefine our role. As we leave the EU, and the world changing so rapidly, it is up to us seize the opportunities that Brexit brings.
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“Defence has always been the most vital and first duty of government. But now we have an unparalleled opportunity to consider how we can project and maximise our influence around the world in the months and years ahead.”
Williamson’s pledge comes just one month after former M16 chief Sir Richard Dearlove and ex-chief of staff for the Ministry of Defence Lord Guthrie wrote a joint letter saying that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement would have disastrous consequences for the UK defence industry.
“A leader in NATO”
One of the major points the Defence Secretary made was the UKs role in NATO after Brexit. He advised that all European neighbours should dedicate their agreed share of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) to defence spending, amid calls from the US for non-EU members to contribute more.
Williamson said: “Nato, 70 years on from its founding, remains the bedrock of our nation’s defence. In the past five years, the alliance has come a long way. It is far more focussed and ready to deter and defend against Russian hostile acts.
“But more European nations need to be ready and capable of responding too, stepping up to the 2% NATO target, and not being distracted by the notion of EU army.”
He also mentioned real-life examples of how the UK is leading the way in NATO, such as supporting operations in Eastern Europe and standing against Russia.
“Britain must be willing and able to lead the alliance to bring stability in a changing world. We are a leader in NATO; this year hosting the leaders’ meeting here in London,” Williamson added.
“Alongside this, we have sent a battlegroup to Estonia to support NATO’s enhanced forward presence. We lead multinational maritime task groups in the Mediterranean and defend the skies over the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea.
“We strongly support NATO’s readiness initiative to make sure forces are available and ready to do their job. And in NATO, we must stand firm against Russia’s non-compliance with the INF treaty.”