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Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 4:41 pm, 20th June 2018

The hon. Gentleman simply needs to look at our record. We consistently spent well over 2% when we were in government. We do have a good record on spending.

I know that there is concern across the House about current levels of defence spending, as the hon. Gentleman has just indicated. The recent findings of the National Audit Office that the equipment plan is simply not affordable, with a funding gap of up to £20.8 billion, will have done nothing to assuage this. As I have said many times, the Government will have support from Labour Members if the modernising defence programme results in proper investment for our defences and our armed forces, but there will be deep disquiet if the review merely results in yet more cuts of the kind that have been briefed in the press in recent months.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union means that our NATO membership is more important than ever. Although we have always recognised NATO as the sole organisation for the collective defence of Europe, and defence has always been the sovereign responsibility of each EU member state, it is none the less the case that from March 2019 we will lose our voice and our vote in the EU Foreign Affairs Council and in many other important committees. We must therefore look at other ways of co-ordinating action with European partners where it is in our interests to do so—for example, in defending the Iran nuclear deal, which was so painstakingly negotiated and risks beings completely trashed by President Trump.

It is also very important that we retain the position of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe once we have left the EU and that we resist any attempts to allocate that role to another European state. Ultimately, Labour believes very firmly that Brexit must not be an opportunity for the UK to turn inwards, or to shirk our international obligations.