Leaving the EU: Defence Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

What steps his Department is taking to support the British defence industry after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The UK defence industry is globally competitive and creates and contributes to jobs across the United Kingdom. I am confident that it will continue to thrive in the future. The Government are seeking the best possible deal for UK industry after exit. We support European collaboration on capability development and are promoting the invaluable contribution of UK industry.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

That was a standard complacent reply from the Minister. Ministers are still hanging on to the mythology that EU regulations prevent them from supporting British industry, most recently with the fleet solid support ships. Of course, no one else in the EU holds on to that view or, indeed, behaves like that. However, as leaving the EU looms, will the Minister now show some decisiveness and backbone, instruct his officials to scrap the old discredited dogma and start putting British industry first?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are trying to make our defence industry the most competitive in the world so that we win those international competitions. It would not be right for me to comment on the decisions taken by other countries on FSS, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but I note that the EU Commission has publicly questioned the legality of applying article 346 to the procurement of support ships by other member states, so I am glad that we have behaved properly.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Will the Minister confirm that even after we have left the EU, members of the British armed forces will continue to be based in EU countries, contributing towards their defence, and that therefore it is not unreasonable for us to expect their Governments to support the British defence industry and the British Government as we finalise negotiations with the rest of the EU?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Of course our commitment to EU security, European security and working with our NATO colleagues will continue after we have left the EU. That is why we are working on ambitious future arrangements. People know that they can rely on the armed forces of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

The Minister knows that I am a huge advocate of the combat air strategy, and had the first debate on that in the Chamber. Given that we are about to leave the EU and Team Tempest is so far showing impressive signs of movement, when will we discuss a replacement for the Hawk so that we have a full package and a training aircraft, and can secure the jobs at Brough?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Lady is right about the future combat air strategy. We are in negotiations and discussions with other partner nations. When it comes to the issues around Hawk, we have done an enormous amount of work to try to get more orders for the Brough site. I recognise how important that is. I have visited Kuwait myself to try to get that order over the line. It is still a work in progress, but I hope that we will be successful.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly, one of the ways we can encourage the UK defence industry is through using new and emerging technologies. Will my hon. Friend comment on use of the transformation fund, particularly the £30 million for new military apps and the £66 million for robotic programmes that will encourage the UK industry to develop further?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend is right to raise that. I went to see some of the small and medium-sized businesses that are working with our armed forces on some of the projects that have been funded through that, plus the innovation fund—the £800 million over 10 years that is encouraging as many businesses as possible, many of which have probably never worked with defence in the past, to come forward with their ideas.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

Today, we saw the ceremony for confirming the move of the EU anti-piracy taskforce from Northwood to a new location near Cadiz. All around us, we are hearing about the consequences of Brexit not only on the defence industry but on our security relationships. Despite there being a rather uncommon consensus in the House about the importance of those relationships, we have heard precious little from the Department. Not only our closest allies, but the defence industry, serving personnel and policy makers need clarity on the UK’s grand strategy. Will the Minister stop hedging their bets and tell us about the defence and security relationship that the Government want with the EU?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Part of the negotiations with the EU has heavily focused on our future relationship and the collaboration we want with EU nations. However, at the end of the day, the cornerstone of our defence is NATO, and those relationships, and our bilateral relationships with many other countries, will form the way that we do defence in the future.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

As the Conservative party plays political games and the Cabinet seeks to oust the Prime Minister, the huge uncertainty for our defence industry continues. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal has been rejected twice, so will the Minister accept that the Government must now do the responsible thing and work across the House to build a consensus for a better deal? Instead of treating this House with yet more disdain, will he confirm that the Government will work with MPs from across the House to determine the course of action?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that this is defence questions. The Prime Minister will be making a statement shortly. Perhaps that question would be best put to her.