Northern Ireland has always played an important role in all our three services, contributing far more men and women to our armed forces, both regulars and reserves, as a proportion of its population than any other part of the United Kingdom. The Royal Air Force is absolutely committed to the support of future air shows. We have a clear understanding of their value in telling the story of what the Royal Air Force does.
Let us take this opportunity to look back to a century ago, when the Royal Air Force was mapping the trenches and directing allied artillery to deliver victory in the great war. In our darkest hour in the second world war, the RAF was our last line of defence against the Luftwaffe. The battle of Britain cemented the RAF’s reputation, the reputation of the few: the dashing, daring, dogged determination of the Royal Air Force to protect and preserve our values and our nation. Our debt to the RAF continued throughout the chill of the cold war. Theirs were the Vulcan bombers that carried our ultimate deterrent and theirs were the transport aircraft that delivered essential aid to the people of West Berlin 70 years ago in that famous airlift, which was the first major humanitarian exercise in modern history. In 1982, the Royal Air Force displayed incredible ingenuity to project strategic air power over thousands of miles to help and support the liberation of the Falkland Islands.
The RAF’s flagship event, which we all witnessed this year, brought this history powerfully home to us all. Like many, not just in the House but throughout the country, I watched the flypast in awe. We heard the unmistakeable sound of Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters and the thunderous roar of the F-35s, Tornados and Typhoons, as we celebrated not just 100 years of the organisation’s existence, but 100 years of fighting spirit and of a nation coming together. We saw those crowds on the Mall—the men and women who had come to say their thank you to their Royal Air Force. We as a nation truly do owe the RAF a great debt.