UK defence role lies with US, not EU, says Michael Fallon
The defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, has emphasised the extent to which he believes the UK’s defence role lies outside the European Union.
In a press release ahead of a meeting with his US counterpart James Mattis in London on Friday morning, Fallon put a post-Brexit spin on Britain’s defence policy. The Ministry of Defence said that Fallon, a confirmed Eurosceptic, would set out in the meeting ways in which the UK hoped to step up its role globally after the triggering of Brexit on Wednesday.
Fallon’s statement said: “Our defence relationship with the US is unprecedented in its depth and scope. As we leave the EU, our bilateral relationships matter more than ever, so we’ll be enhancing our cooperation and investing more in our joint F-35 fast jet programme.”
The mainly US-built F-35 is one of the costliest defence projects in history. It has had a troubled development history and is well over budget. But Fallon’s commitment is meant to reflect the continuing importance of the US-UK alliance.
The MoD, in the statement, made a point of diminishing the role of the EU in defence. It said: “When Britain leaves the EU, around 80% of Nato defence spending will be non-EU, and three out of the four countries leading Nato’s s enhanced forward presence in eastern Europe [a force deployed to deter Russia] will be non-EU members.”
Donald Trump, during his election campaign, described Nato as obsolete and called for its reform, especially that all members should pay a higher proportion of of GDP on defence. Only a handful of countries, including the US and the UK, meet the Nato commitment to spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.
Fallon and Mattis, who, unlike Trump, has expressed support for Nato, will discuss ways to press other countries to spend more on defence. Ahead of Trump’s visit to a Nato summit in Brussels this summer, the two defence ministers will discuss steps to modernise the organisation, including the creation of simpler command structures.
The UK recently sent the first 200 of 800 troops to Estonia as part of a Nato mission to deter any Russian attempts to destabilise the Baltic states. Fallon and Mattis want other members of Nato to take a bigger share of the defence burden.
Other countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, counter that, in spite of such rhetoric from Fallon, they do make major contributions on defence.
Fallon said of the meeting with Mattis: “Together, we will also agree further steps to modernise Nato and ensure greater burden sharing. That means more European members committing to annual increases in their defence spending in order to counter an aggressive Russia and tackle terrorism and cyber threats.”