I am exceedingly grateful for this opportunity to speak. This is a timely debate, and I am much saddened that we are having to address this serious issue. My contribution will be short, as I fully support the steps that the Government are taking to protect our national security, especially after the terrible events we have recently witnessed in Salisbury.
You may be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have worked closely with our military personnel since my election, and I am pleased to stand here once again to thank them for the exceptional job that they do to maintain our national security. However, my time working with the armed forces parliamentary scheme has also shown me that the threats we face as a country are ever changing, and I firmly believe that it is imperative to continue to invest in defence to counter those threats. It will therefore come as no surprise to colleagues that I welcome the Government’s commitment to increase the defence budget every year and to ensure that the NATO pledge of spending 2% of our national income on defence will be met for the rest of this decade. If Ministers are listening to this debate, there should also be a substantial increase in spending.
It is also right that the Government will spend £178 billion on new equipment for the military in the coming decade. However, we must not ignore the increasing threat to our cyber-security. As a member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I have seen worrying evidence of attempted influencing of our elections and referendums through the spreading of fake news. I believe that in future we will come under further and more devastating attacks in that arena. That should not be underestimated.
Although it is clear to me that the Government will ensure that threats to this country are met with sufficient force, I continue to be concerned by the threat posed by Russia, which, according to our national security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, has become troublesome more quickly than anticipated. Russia continues to rearm itself, even during a period of economic hardship. Moreover, its military forces continue to probe at our boundaries, at a cost to its state and ours. Those are not the actions of a rational state with a stable leadership, and neither was the reckless and unprovoked attack in Salisbury earlier this month. Given the continued provocations, I agree with the Government that we must send the strongest possible message to the Russian leadership.
Of course, as the Prime Minister said earlier, we have no disagreement with the people of Russia, who have been responsible for so many great achievements throughout their history. However, I believe we now have an unfortunate and profound disagreement with their leaders, due partly to the extraordinary reaction to the almost universal condemnation they received. One of their television presenters said:
“The profession of a traitor is one of the most dangerous in this world… traitors or those who simply hate their country in their free time: don’t choose Britain as a place to live.”
“Something is wrong there. Maybe it’s the climate, but in recent years, there have been too many strange incidents with grave outcomes there.”
Those words are chilling indeed. I would call that playground bullying if it were not so sinister and serious.
I say all that with some regret, because, like many people throughout the country, I viewed post-Soviet Russia with hope. I grew up with bombs pointed at me; I got used to that when I was a young man in the ’50s and ’60s. I was all too aware of the destructive forces pointed at us. That is why I am so concerned that the Russian state continues to act in an unstable manner. I do not want another generation to grow up in the shadow of those weapons, due to the reckless actions of a state such as Russia which makes thinly veiled threats and acts more like a bully boy in the playground than a responsible member of the international community.
In the face of such hostility, it is right to deploy a range of tools from the full breadth of our national security apparatus to counter the threats. I am pleased that our allies clearly support that course of action, and I am grateful that that will be maintained in the future. Even after Brexit, the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security, and the Government want to ensure that Europe remains strong, prosperous and capable of defending itself.
Russia, acting as a reckless bully, with no qualms about making threats against people in this country, is clearly an obstacle to a peaceful and prosperous Europe, of which we want to be part. I fully support the steps that the Government have taken to hold Russia to account. Let us not forget Litvinenko, Georgi Markov and countless others.
You can read the full debate here
You can watch my speech here