NATO Summit

– in the House of Commons at on 13 July 2023.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 10:37, 13 July 2023

Mr Speaker, I have just returned from the NATO summit in Vilnius, where we strengthened the NATO alliance and confirmed Britain’s place at its heart. Faced with a more volatile and dangerous world, a mechanised war in Europe and increasing aggression from authoritarian states, we must show those who would challenge our security and prosperity that NATO is united, that it is ready for this new era and that it will remain the most successful alliance in history.

Together with our allies, that is exactly what we did, in three specific ways. First, we acted decisively to strengthen the alliance. We agreed the most fundamental transformation to NATO’s readiness since the cold war. That includes comprehensive war-fighting plans to defend the UK and its allies, scaled-up defence production to boost our stockpiles, which will benefit British industry and jobs, and increased defence spending. All allies made

“an enduring commitment to invest at least 2%” of GDP.

The Vilnius summit also saw NATO’s membership expand. We welcomed Finland to the table as a NATO member and ensured that Sweden will follow close behind. The historic decision of our Finnish and Swedish friends to join NATO would have been almost unthinkable just a year and a half ago, but Putin’s aggression made it almost inevitable. Where he sought to make us weaker, he has achieved the opposite. We are stronger than ever with these new allies by our side.

Secondly, we acted to increase our support for Ukraine. Let us never forget what Ukraine is going through. Over 500 days of war, Ukrainians have experienced untold suffering, the likes of which no NATO country has suffered since its inception. I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the Ukrainian people and to their incredible spirit and fortitude. They are still standing strong and defiant, and the counter-offensive is making progress. In the last few weeks, they have taken back more ground than Russia has taken in the last year. We are standing with them, and allies are doubling down in their support.

This is not just about NATO. At the Munich security conference in February, I called for long-term security arrangements to protect Ukraine, re-establish deterrence in Europe and break the cycle of Russian violence. And now allies have delivered. Yesterday, the G7 leaders came together to sign the joint declaration of support for Ukraine, agreeing to provide the long-term bilateral security commitments that Ukraine needs and deserves. Those commitments mark a new high point in international support for Ukraine, and more allies will be signing up to add their support. But let me be clear: that is not a substitute for NATO membership.

We took a big step in Vilnius towards bringing Ukraine into the alliance. The summit communiqué echoed the UK’s long-held position that

“Ukraine’s future is in NATO.”

Of course, there is more work to be done, but we have shortened Ukraine’s path to membership, removing the need for a membership action plan, and holding the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine council with President Zelensky sitting at the table, by our side, as an equal. As President Zelensky said, the summit was

“a very much needed and meaningful success for Ukraine.”

Thirdly, we showed in Vilnius that the UK remains a driving force behind this alliance. As I have told the House before, those who run down this country and its place on the world stage could not be more wrong. In my bilateral meetings and the wider NATO sessions, I was struck again and again by how valued our contribution is. The British people should know that and they should be proud. The United Kingdom is, and will remain, one of the world’s leading defence powers. We are the leading European contributor to NATO. We were one of the first to hit the 2% target for defence spending, and we are going further. Earlier this year, I announced a significant uplift of an extra £5 billion over the next two years, immediately increasing our defence budget to around 2.25% of GDP, on our way to delivering our new ambition of 2.5% and ensuring that our incredible armed forces can continue to keep us safe.

Right now, RAF jets are patrolling NATO’s eastern flank, our troops are on the ground in Estonia and Poland as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence, and the Royal Navy is patrolling the seas, providing a quarter of the alliance’s maritime capability. We are one of the only countries that contributes to every NATO mission, and we will keep playing our part as a leading nation in the joint expeditionary force. We are building deep partnerships such as AUKUS and the global combat air programme. We are using our leadership in technology to keep NATO at the cutting edge, hosting the European headquarters of the defence innovation accelerator and holding the first global summit on artificial intelligence safety in the UK later this year. We are also leading the debate on tackling emerging security threats, including the migration crisis. I have called on NATO to play a stronger supporting role here, helping southern allies to build their capabilities.

That leadership in defence and security is matched by our diplomacy, strengthening our relationships around the world. In just the last few months, we have concluded negotiations on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and have signed critical minerals partnerships with Canada and Australia, a semiconductor partnership with Japan, and the Atlantic declaration with the United States—a new kind of economic partnership in a more contested world.

There is no better example of our ability to bring all those elements together and lead on the world stage than our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Our diplomats have led the unprecedented effort to co-ordinate sanctions against Russia’s economy. Last month, we hosted the Ukraine recovery conference, raising over $60 billion to help rebuild Ukraine’s economy and bringing in the private sector to help unlock its economic potential.

As the House knows, we have backed Ukraine’s fight for its freedom and sovereignty since the start. We were the first country in the world to train Ukrainian troops, the first in Europe to provide lethal weapons, the first to commit tanks and the first to provide long-range missiles. Now, we are at the forefront of the coalition to equip the Ukrainian air force, with Ukrainian pilots starting their training here in just a few weeks’ time.

We do all of this because it is right, because it protects our values and our interests, because it keeps our people and our allies safe, and because, quite simply, it is who we are as a country. We were there at the start of the NATO alliance, and this week we have shown once again that we remain at its heart, leading it into the future. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Leader of HM Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 10:44, 13 July 2023

I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement.

It is over 500 days since Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine began. Putin believed the west was too divided to act in our common interest and too corrupted to stand up for what was right. He was wrong. NATO nations continue to stand united—united in our collective support for President Zelensky, and united in our belief that victory will come to the Ukrainian people. And so too, across this House, we remain steadfast and determined to show that whatever our differences, we will stand up to Putin’s aggression, and we stand ready to pursue him for his crimes.

Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable. It is an achievement of this party and a cornerstone of British security for 74 years. I therefore welcome the progress made in Vilnius this week, in particular the commitment to strengthen the collective defence of this continent. Regional plans, greater intelligence co-operation and improved readiness—this will put us all on a better footing to react quickly to modern threats. The new defence production action plan will help us build a robust and resilient defence sector, not only to develop the munitions and hardware needed to support Ukraine’s war efforts but to strengthen our own defence capabilities.

I also welcome the announcement that G7 members will provide wide-ranging and long-term security commitments with Ukraine. This is a crucial signal to Putin and those who back him that our support for Ukraine will not waver. We must continue to show that his illegal invasion will end in defeat and that it will only make NATO a stronger alliance. That is why this House should celebrate the historic decision by NATO nations to welcome Sweden into the alliance. Sweden will be a strong addition to NATO, and its membership, along with the recent accession of Finland, shows once again that rather than divide and weaken Europe, Putin’s war has only strengthened our collective resolve. NATO has never been stronger.

I understand the decision by leaders not to set a timetable for Ukraine’s membership of NATO, but I also support the clear declaration that Ukraine’s future lies within the alliance. Our military assistance for Ukraine has Labour’s total backing, but so too does Ukraine’s long-term aim to join NATO. It fights on the frontline of European freedom, so it is important that we are clear to the people of Ukraine who fight so bravely for their future that the question is not if Ukraine joins NATO, but when Ukraine joins NATO.

Finally, it is important we are clear that even if there is a change of Government in the UK, there will never be a change in Britain’s resolve, no change in our support for Ukraine and no change in our commitment to the security of Britain and our allies. At moments like this, this House tends to acknowledge this unity and understand that our words carry weight beyond these shores; we choose them wisely. So I would ask the Prime Minister when he rises whether he is prepared to correct the record in this House in relation to a social media statement he made last night that Labour “didn’t want” him to attend the summit this week. On the contrary, we were delighted that he was there, because in an ever more dangerous world, we must be united, and NATO must be co-ordinated, ready to adapt and ready to strengthen. The decisions taken this week give us a platform to do that and deliver a plan that can protect our collective security and support our friends in need, however difficult that may prove to be. We must stay the course and make sure Putin’s brutal ambition ends in his total defeat.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, although it is a bit rich to attack me for missing Prime Minister’s Question Time and then say that he wanted me to attend the NATO summit. [Interruption.]

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think the point has been made. I also welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s new-found affection for the NATO alliance, having sat for long years next to someone who wanted to— [Interruption.]

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Mr Speaker, you can tell from the volume of noise that they do not like it, but it is the truth. [Interruption.]

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The reality is this: for long years, the right hon. and learned Gentleman sat there next to someone who did not support NATO and wanted to scrap Trident and abolish our armed forces. That is what the record is, but I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman joins the Government in supporting efforts for Ukraine. It is important that that remains a united position across this House. [Interruption.]

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Briefly, with regard to NATO membership, it is important that President Zelensky’s words are listened to. He said that he viewed the NATO summit as providing a meaningful success for Ukraine—for his country and its people—because significant progress was made on the path towards NATO membership. It is a question of when, not if, and as the Secretary-General said, what was a two-step process has now become a one-step process, with more political support and momentum behind Ukraine’s membership than at any time in NATO’s history. That is something that President Zelensky understands and appreciates, and over the course of the two days, it was crystal clear that there is an incredibly strong feeling among all alliance members to support Ukraine on that journey as quickly as practically possible.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. I returned from Ukraine in the last few days, where I was quite close to the frontline working with a charity. The one thing that I must tell the Prime Minister is that the people of Ukraine are enormously grateful for the leadership that he and the UK have shown within NATO. They never stop telling us how much they welcome the UK’s leadership in this matter.

While I was there, the Ukrainians were very clear that in their assaults, their biggest problem is that they are losing many men trying to clear the minefields. They do not have the right equipment; in fact, at night, they go forward with bayonets trying to get to the mines—it is shocking to see. I urge the Prime Minister, if at all possible, to make it a priority to talk to the US Government and try to get them to release the right equipment that would allow the Ukrainians to make those assaults in the right way, not losing so many lives.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for all his commitment, and indeed for his personal visits to Ukraine to see at first hand what is happening and how best we can tailor our support. He is right about the mines that have been left by the Russian armies—it is a considerable effort to have them cleared. I want to reassure him that we are in close communication with the Ukrainian military about exactly what capabilities and equipment it needs to clear minefields and support its armed forces as they make progress. We will continue to have that conversation and work with allies to get it all the kit it needs.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I associate myself with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition’s strong support for Ukraine. Slava Ukraini.

This Government’s defence Command Paper will be published next week, I believe. Given events in Ukraine, what lessons has the Ministry of Defence learned about modern urban warfare, and how will that feed into operational strategy? I recall the former Prime Minister saying at the Liaison Committee just before the war:

“We have to recognise that the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on the European landmass…are over”.

He then proceeded to cut our tank numbers—how wrong he was. Is the Department considering future opportunities for defence co-operation with the EU that are complementary to NATO?

There is less than a week left until the expiration of the deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports via the Black sea—this is very important, so I hope the Prime Minister is listening. Can he speak to the discussions that were had at the summit to ensure the continuation of the current deal, which is vital for Ukraine’s remaining economy and for global food security? What steps has the Department taken, and what steps will it take, to improve the UK’s military partnership with Finland in the period since it joined NATO, and are there plans to do the same with Sweden?

Given recent reports of Russian spying on and sabotage of energy infrastructure in the North sea, and the fact that the UK’s undersea cables are worth £7.4 trillion a day to the economy, what will the UK be contributing to NATO’s establishment of its critical undersea infrastructure co-ordination cell, and will it be based in Scotland? My hon. Friend and leader Stephen Flynn raised with the Prime Minister previously that some nations are continuing to use products from Russian oil. Did he pursue that further? Is it his impression there is genuine unity on proposed reconstruction efforts in Ukraine?

Finally, how does the Prime Minister hope to contribute to diplomatic efforts to bring on board parts of the international community, increasingly including the Republican right in America, to support what NATO is doing to ensure Ukraine’s survival?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

On NATO co-operation with the EU, I agree wholeheartedly with the Secretary-General, who set three very clear conditions for supporting EU defence initiatives: first, that they are coherent with NATO requirements; secondly, that they develop capabilities that are available to NATO; and, lastly, that they are open to the fullest participation of non-EU NATO allies. That has been the established position, and it is one we fully support.

The hon. Member asked about the Black sea grain initiative, which is due to expire on 17 July. I commend President Erdoğan’s leadership on this issue, in particular over the last year. I spoke to him at the conference last week on this, and he is working to engage with the Russians on extending the grain deal, as are other allies. It is important that the grain deal is extended because, as we know, around two thirds of the grain leaving Ukraine is destined for low and middle-income countries, and we do not want Russia to inflict any more suffering than it already is.

The hon. Member also asked about undersea cables and undersea infrastructure. I agree with her that that requires attention and focus, which is why the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology are working collaboratively, together with industry, to make sure that everyone is doing their part to protect what is critical infrastructure. The MOD is developing particular capabilities to monitor and protect that infrastructure, and it is something that we have put on the agenda through the joint expeditionary force, which obviously comprises the northern European nations. We are hosting, in fact, as I think she alluded to, a potential headquarters for more focus on that area, and I look forward to discussing that with my JEF allies towards the end of this year.

Lastly, on galvanising international support for Ukraine, that is something I do when I am at these international summits. Particularly when I was last in the US, one of the things I did was spend half a day in Congress talking to congressional leaders from both parties to illustrate to them the importance of providing support to Ukraine not just now, but for years into the future. I am delighted that the US has played a leading role in the multilateral security guarantees, and it is important that it does so. However, as we are seeing, we are broadening the coalition of support for Ukraine, and being at these international summits and talking to world leaders shows that the UK is leading by example and leading from the front. I was very pleased that France has just announced that it will also now be providing long-range weapons to Ukraine, following the UK’s lead, and making an enormous difference to Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

On Britain’s contribution, had our excellent Defence Secretary not effectively foreseen the Russian invasion and provided thousands of NLAWs—next-generation light anti-tank weapons—to the Ukrainians, with the appropriate training, to blunt the assault, Russian generals would be having lunch in Kyiv today. The British Army, relative to its size, has made a larger contribution of critical equipment—the key organs, as it were—than any other army in NATO, including the United States. We can be immensely proud of that, but those organs need to be grown back for our own security and to maintain our contribution to NATO. Will the Prime Minister do everything he can across Whitehall to promote the requisite sense of urgency to regrow those organs and, critically, to provide the resources to do it?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend that this House and the entire country can and should be proud of the leadership we have shown on Ukraine. He is right that we need to rebuild the stockpiles we have provided. That is why, in the Budget, £5 billion extra funding was provided for the armed forces, with a large chunk of that going particularly to rebuild those organs and those stockpiles, coming on top of the half a billion that was provided in the autumn statement. Just this week, for example, we announced a new contract with BAE to provide critical 155 mm rounds, which, as he will be familiar with, are absolutely mission-critical. Because we now have the funding to provide long-term contracts, we can increase defence production. That is good for our security, it is good for the security of our allies and, crucially, it also creates jobs, particularly in the north of England.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I welcome the Prime Minister’s update and our support for Ukraine, and I strongly agree that we need to encourage our NATO allies to meet their commitments in full. How is he encouraging that goal when he is overseeing a cut to the British Army of 10,000 troops? Is not one of the key lessons from Russia’s attack on Ukraine that a sizeable standing army remains crucial to the defence and security of our country and NATO allies, and will he listen to voices across this House calling for a reversal to cuts in Army numbers?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman talks about defence spending, and it is clear that not only have we met the 2% target, but we were one of the first to do so, and we have done so for over a decade. It is good that others are now catching up, and our leadership on this issue is unquestionable. How that money is spent is ultimately a question for our military chiefs, to ensure that we have the optimal mix of capabilities to protect ourselves against the threats we face. I will not pre-empt the defence Command Paper, other than to say that, when it comes to our armed forces, what is important is not just the quantum in terms of the Army, but how lethal they are, how deployable and how agile. That has been a particular focus of attention from the Chief of the General Staff, and it is a plan that we are putting in place. I would maybe draw slightly different lessons from the right hon. Gentleman’s on the conflict that Ukraine is currently experiencing. The capabilities that we have brought to bear have been in a range of areas, all of which have received extra investment. Again, those will be questions for the defence Command Paper, which he will not have to wait very long to see.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and congratulate him on contributing to what I think history will prove to have been one of the most significant summits in NATO’s history. Will he clarify what he understands is the intention with regard to Ukraine’s membership of NATO? What would be the purpose of delaying Ukraine’s membership beyond the end of hostilities in Ukraine and the victory for the Ukrainians? Without the article 5 security guarantee, rebuilding Ukraine will be much more difficult, because investors will not have confidence unless we are providing that security guarantee.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In the interests of time, I might point him in the direction of the Secretary-General’s press conference from the day before yesterday, which explained—in more detail than I have time for now—the process and how this has been done previously. As he pointed out, accession to NATO has never been a question of timing; it has always been a question of conditions and circumstances. My hon. Friend will be familiar with the fact that there is an ongoing conflict. There are also requirements on all NATO members when it comes to areas such as modernisation, governance and interoperability, which Ukraine is now firmly on the path towards fulfilling, not least because of the help and support that we have provided over the past year.

I agree with my hon. Friend that history will judge this to be one of the most significant NATO summits. There was the significant change in the defence investment pledge, so 2% is now firmly established as a floor, not a ceiling. There was the most comprehensive update to NATO’s war fighting plans in decades, if not since the end of the cold war, and they are remarkable in their breadth and significance. There was the accession of new members—Finland, and Sweden to follow. Lastly, there was the move on membership for Ukraine. Taken together, that represents a significant set of NATO achievements, sitting alongside the multilateral security guarantees. As my hon. Friend says, it has been an historic and very important couple of days.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

I hope that in his reply the Prime Minister will help clarify that it is we who owe gratitude to Ukraine, not the other way round. Will he update the House on plans not simply to help Ukraine win the war, but to win the peace? The reconstruction of Ukraine will cost at least $400 billion, and Russia should be helping to foot the bill. That means we need new laws to seize, not simply freeze, assets. It means we need action at the United Nations to change the norms around immunity of central banks. Crucially, it means we need to start prosecuting Russia for the crime of aggression. That will require us to mobilise not simply a military NATO, but an economic NATO. Will the Prime Minister update us on the conversations that he has had to make that a reality?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have recently hosted the Ukraine recovery conference, for which the Ukrainian Government and people are extremely grateful. It was the most successful conference of its ilk that has happened, raising more than $60 billion for Ukraine’s reconstruction and mobilising private sector capital, as is necessary. It was seen as a significant achievement and the UK leading from the front. With regard to assets, I point him to a good couple of paragraphs in the NATO communiqué. All allies are taking steps, as are we, to legally freeze assets until suitable reparations from Russia have been put in place for reconstruction. He will understand that the international framework for doing so is untested and novel. It requires co-operation among allies, and that co-operation and work is happening.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations

Further to the question from Liam Byrne, I welcome the UK’s strong leadership at the NATO summit and thank the Prime Minister for it. The unity, the resources and the new members send a powerful message. There is no timetable for Ukraine joining NATO, but its membership is only a matter of time. When that time comes, the extent of reconstruction and the investment needed will be vast. A lot of Russian assets are held here and are frozen. Can the Prime Minister elaborate even further on the conversations he had at the summit on how the UK will again play a leadership role in unlocking resources from those Russian assets to help with the reconstruction of Ukraine?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We have recently published new legislation that will enable sanctions on Russia to be maintained until Moscow pays compensation to Ukraine. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will pursue all lawful routes to ensure that Russian assets are made available in support of Ukraine’s reconstruction, in line with international law. Our international partners are, like the UK, yet to fully test the lawfulness of a new asset seizure regime, but that is exactly the work we are doing with allies, particularly across the G7, to share expertise and experience.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central

In 1994, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees about its security and territorial integrity. Given what has happened since, we all understand why President Zelensky is so keen to join the alliance. Does the Prime Minister agree that when and however the current war ends, NATO membership at that point will need to form the cornerstone of new security guarantees that the people of Ukraine can rely on?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think the people of Ukraine received a very strong signal of support from the NATO alliance over the past couple of days. That is what President Zelensky believes and it is what he is taking back to his country. He called it a significant security victory. The signature of the multilateral agreement on security guarantees by the G7 represents near-term, immediate support for Ukraine’s security from the G7 allies. I am highly confident that others will join that declaration, too, giving the Ukrainian people some assurance and security, which they rightly deserve.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I commend the Prime Minister for his leading role at the NATO summit, and I very much support his statement. In the statement, he said:

“All allies made an enduring commitment to invest at least 2% of GDP.”

Many countries have been making that promise for many years and never actually fulfilling it. They want the protection of NATO but are not paying their fair share towards it, and are instead relying on the UK taxpayer and, more importantly, the US taxpayer to foot the bill. What more can be done to ensure that every country in NATO, if they want the protection of NATO, pays its fair share?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I agree wholeheartedly. It is why we fought hard for the new defence investment pledge to set 2% as an enduring commitment and as a floor, not a ceiling. Progress has been made. If he looks at the statistics over the past couple of years in particular, he will see an increase not just in the volume of defence spending across the alliance, but in the number of countries that are meeting 2%. That is forecast to be potentially as high as two thirds of all members next year, which would represent a landmark achievement. He is right that we must keep the pressure on and urge everyone to fulfil their 2% commitment.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

The Prime Minister knows that UK stockpiles are being depleted due to the war in Ukraine and, for us to rightly sustain our support at the right level, the Government should be fully addressing our diminished defence industrial base and skills shortages. Our NATO allies were swift to reboot their defence plans, yet he has consistently delayed the defence Command Paper. Why is that?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Member talks about what other allies are doing but, again, that is not the conversation that I have been having for the past couple of days: other allies look up to the UK and to the example that we have set. We are the ones increasing defence spending, particularly to rebuild stockpiles. As I mentioned, there was £5 billion of investment at the Budget coming on top of half a billion pounds at the autumn statement. A new contract was announced just this week, which is creating jobs across the country, but particularly in the north. That is the right thing to do, and that is what we will continue to deliver.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

What conclusions has the Prime Minister drawn about the increased vulnerability of Ukraine since it gave up its nuclear weapons and the contribution that our nuclear weapons make to our own security?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate guarantee of our security. That is why it is so important for the UK and an important part of the contribution that we bring to NATO. We are one of the few countries that offers NATO not just nuclear capabilities but carrier strike, fifth-generation combat air and leading maritime across the board, as well as cyber-offensive. That is why we are respected in NATO and why we are a valuable member of the alliance.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

This week, I was at the forum of the NATO summit in Vilnius alongside my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, who is vice-president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I hope that the Prime Minister will join me in paying tribute to Lithuania not only for its political leadership, but for having been such excellent hosts and organising such an historic summit. But the mood in Vilnius was not quite how the Prime Minister has presented it. Representatives of Ukraine’s Parliament and civil society had a clear and sobering message that as the war goes on for longer, Ukraine is losing brave fighters on the frontline. That is why it is so important that we get the weapons that Ukraine needs to win into the hands of those brave soldiers now. What are the practical outcomes of what was agreed that will ensure that those resources are on the frontline so that Ukraine can win sooner rather than later?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I would say to the hon. Lady that that is exactly what we have been doing for the past year, and the Ukrainian Government and people are extremely grateful for our leadership on that issue. But I join her in paying tribute to Lithuania not just for hosting the summit excellently, but for demonstrating so clearly why our collective security is so important. Given Lithuania’s geographic position and the threats it faces, particularly from Belarus, it was important that the NATO summit was held there. It sends a strong signal of our unity in supporting the eastern flank of the NATO alliance, which I think is incredibly important.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

Having worked in and around NATO for several decades, I am clear that it remains the exemplar for western security. May I please thank the Prime Minister for his exemplary leadership when it comes to the UK contribution? Noting that a significant number of countries are not providing their 2% commitment, does the Prime Minister have any sense on how they might be encouraged—or even coerced—to do so?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

What I am pleased to see is positive forward momentum. We see that in, as I said, not just the quantum of defence spending across the alliance but the number of individual countries increasing spending and, indeed, forecast to meet the 2% target next year. It is right that we keep the pressure on, and the new defence investment pledge signed at the summit demonstrates willingness across the alliance that defence spending does need to increase and a recognition of the threats that we face, but also that a number of countries, including the UK, have been leading on this issue for some years.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Russia has built 475 new military sites and 50 major new military bases on its northern frontier—its northern flank—in the past six years because the loss of the summer sea ice has exposed that flank. That makes clear the way in which climate change is affecting and endangering all our lives not just in terms of the environment and food security, but militarily. What discussions did the Prime Minister have at the NATO summit about the Arctic Council and how its balance, which has moved from 5:3 to 7:1, has furthered that isolation? Did he discuss how the northern sea route has been claimed by Russia as an inland sea and how warships are now having to declare when they go through?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I spent a lot of my time talking with our joint expeditionary force allies. As the hon. Gentleman will know, because of the geographic location of JEF, in which we are the leading framework nation, we talk regularly about the security of the high north and the Arctic. I discussed that with some of my counterparts over the last two days, and it will be a focus of our discussions at the JEF summit towards the end of the year. He should rest assured that it is an area we pay increasing attention to, not just from an intelligence perspective but with our military capabilities.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I thank the Prime Minister for his tireless efforts leading from the front in NATO’s support for Ukraine. The United Kingdom is NATO’s largest European defence spender, spending more than 20 other NATO allies combined. We are meeting our 2% commitment, but far too many are not. When does the Prime Minister expect all NATO allies to have met the 2% floor?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As soon as possible is what I would like to say. Hopefully, next year we will see very significant progress in the number of countries in the alliance meeting the 2% target—forecast to be almost two thirds next year on a rising trajectory. It is important that we keep the pressure on. The threats that we face are only growing in their scale and complexity, and we need to invest more to protect ourselves against them.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I agree with the Prime Minister that we should be proud of the United Kingdom’s place at the heart of NATO, as I have always been proud of my party’s role in the creation of the alliance. Does the Prime Minister agree that those in the United Kingdom who know the consequences of Putin’s murderous regime best—the Ukrainian, Polish and eastern European communities—ought to be supported here? Does he agree that no one should ever try to denigrate or divide anyone from those long-standing parts of our British community?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Those countries in particular value their relationship with the UK. The meetings I had over the past couple of days evidenced that. I pay particular tribute to their leadership on this issue, supporting Ukraine and setting an example when it comes to defence spending. That is why with Poland in particular we have a close and growing defence and military relationship, which will only become a more significant part of the NATO alliance in the years to come.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the leadership he has shown in this highly successful summit. I particularly welcome the broadening of this critical alliance. It was good to hear his confirmation of our ambition to reach 2.5% of GDP spending on defence, and the progress made to encourage others to do the same. Can my right hon. Friend comment on how NATO is utilising new technologies to ensure it remains at the cutting edge?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have to keep on the cutting edge of new technologies to maintain our military superiority and advantage against adversaries. The UK is playing its part in two ways: we will host the European headquarters of DIANA—the defence innovation accelerator for the north Atlantic—and last year saw the announcement of a €1 billion innovation fund, the first sovereign venture capital fund of its type, which will ensure that we can continue to invest in those critical technologies that provide a security advantage.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

In welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement, I gently encourage him to adopt a slightly different tone rather than phrases such as “new-found affection” for NATO. He knows the seminal role of the post-war Labour Government, in particular the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, in the creation of NATO. [Interruption.] I suggest they read some history books. He also knows that Labour’s policy of support for NATO is as strong now as it was 75 years ago. Will he welcome that fact and work in a statesmanlike way with the Leader of the Opposition, in the national interest?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I was not quibbling at all with the leadership shown by Labour politicians 75 years ago; I was quibbling with that shown just a few years ago.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Across Watford, as across the UK, people have been so welcoming to those from Ukraine who have been moved from their homes because of the despicable acts of Putin. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that today we are as resolved to help Ukrainians win their war against Putin as we were on day one when he invaded their country?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We remain completely resolute in our commitment to support Ukraine for as long as it takes for it to regain its sovereignty and freedom. It is an enormously proud accomplishment of this country that we have provided such warm hospitality and refuge to many Ukrainian families in all parts of our country. I know that every Member will join me in thanking people for welcoming Ukrainian families into their homes. Long may it continue.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The statements coming out of Vilnius this week make plain that Ukraine will not be admitted to NATO until it enjoys a peaceful relationship with its neighbours. That is understandable, but what is the Prime Minister doing to make it plain to Russia that it would be mistaken if it took that as an incentive to sustain its aggression, given that Ukraine is not responsible for the war on its territory?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Very specifically, by leading the conversation and now delivering multilateral security guarantees to Ukraine, which we first spoke about in February at the Munich security conference. That has been delivered at this summit by the G7 allies, and I am sure will be joined by many others, and unequivocally demonstrates to Russia that not only will there be support for Ukraine today, but for years to come. That will serve as a significant deterrent to him and hopefully change the calculus in his head about the persistence of this illegal and unprovoked war.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly his commitment to leading the debate on tackling emerging security threats, including the migration crisis. Will my right hon. Friend explain how NATO can play a stronger role in helping some of our southern allies to build capabilities and capacity in southern Europe?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Italian Prime Minister and I spent time discussing that. Indeed, she and I raised it in the NATO sessions. It is something we agreed to work jointly on, because it is clear that illegal migration is one of the new threats we face, whether it is being weaponised by Belarus or coming from Wagner-oriented action in Africa. It is right that we, as an alliance, do what we can to share intelligence and strengthen our co-operation to break the cycle of criminal gangs and stop illegal migration.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, I know how steadfast support for Ukraine is right across the House. Ukraine is not just defending itself; it is defending the UK and people right across Europe, so I was disappointed to hear the Defence Secretary’s comments about not being Amazon. Does the Prime Minister disassociate himself from those comments? A year ago, the UK-led international effort to create a fund of £770 million for military aid, but none has been delivered. When will that military aid arrive in Ukraine?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said, President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are incredibly grateful for all the leadership and support shown by the British Government and the British people. One thing we did was to co-ordinate the International Fund for Ukraine among our allies. We continue to do that, and to ensure we deliver vital supplies to Ukrainian armed forces.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

The Prime Minister and I share an interest in artificial intelligence. We have seen it used for deepfakes of President Zelensky, which were taken down very quickly. AI has moved on very quickly, with ChatGPT being opened to the public very quickly. What conversations were had at NATO about how we deal with that? More importantly, what can the UK do to ensure we have a safe framework around AI?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the opportunities and threats posed by AI. The Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic —DIANA—which I mentioned, will look in particular at harnessing dual-use commercial technologies in areas such as AI. As I said, we will be hosting the European headquarters. More broadly, the UK is proud to be hosting the first global summit on AI safety later this year, where this will, of course, be a topic of conversation.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Labour founded NATO, so of course we welcome the Prime Minister’s work in that. What are his thoughts on, and did the summit discuss, the possibility of establishing a special tribunal to bring those responsible for the Russian Federation’s illegal war to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity? That was part of the memorandum of understanding at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, another security alliance that we are part of—I was there the other week. It was proposed very movingly by the Ukrainians, who are full members of that alliance. I wonder what the Prime Minister’s thoughts are on that.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It is right that we hold Russia and those responsible to account for their war crimes in Ukraine. That is why we led a state-party referral to the International Criminal Court and provided about £1 million of funding to the Court. It is also why we have joined a core group of countries to explore options to ensure criminal accountability for the crime of aggression committed in and against Ukraine, including through a special tribunal. And at the Council of Europe meeting that I was at, we became a founding member of the international register of damage caused by the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. We will continue to do everything we can to hold those responsible for crimes to account.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, in particular, for the role that he played that led to Turkey agreeing the accession of Sweden to NATO, which was a momentous event. As part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, with the Royal Navy, we have had the privilege of visiting the home of the continuous at-sea deterrent in Faslane and those who support it at Northwood. Does he agree with me, and I think every Government Member, that our nuclear deterrent is vital to our nation and to NATO, and will he join me in thanking those who serve in silence and in secret beneath the waves?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Our submariners do an extraordinary job under difficult conditions, and they deserve our gratitude for everything that they do for our country. They are the ultimate guarantor of our security and we owe them our thanks.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Labour’s Ernie Bevin helped to found NATO, but I ask the Prime Minister: why have the Conservatives given us the smallest Army we have had for 300 years?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It is right that our armed forces adapt their capabilities to the threats that we face. Trying to compare the threats that we face and the capabilities that we have now with when NATO was founded is completely ridiculous. It is important now that we invest, whether that is in offensive cyber or extra maritime capabilities to deal with subsea infrastructure. The range of threats we face evolves all the time and we will continue to make sure that we are protected against them, but what no one can doubt is our commitment to investing in our armed forces, with record levels and a 2% commitment that we first met over a decade ago sustained and on a rising trajectory. This Government are committed to investing more in our defence and we will do so in a way that absolutely protects us.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I say, as a Bristol MP, that we are incredibly proud of Ernie Bevin. He was orphaned at eight, started work on the Bristol docks at the age of 11 and went on to become British Foreign Secretary and found NATO, which is quite some achievement.

Obviously, this move is very welcome in terms of the containment of Russian activity and strengthening Ukraine’s position, but the Prime Minister did mention the activities of Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa, where there are widespread reports of atrocities being carried out and the fact that they are using trade in natural resources, being paid in mining concessions, to avoid sanctions. What action is the UK taking to try to combat that?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We are working closely with partners, particularly France and others, to share intelligence and do what we can to combat the destabilising impacts of Wagner in different parts of the world. We have also sanctioned the Wagner Group in its entirety and, indeed, its leaders, which is contributing to some of the economic squeeze on them.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Earlier, the Prime Minister referred to Turkey’s President, and Turkey is the most important member of NATO. In recent times, Turkey has changed its stance, and we see the historic result of that change. The UK has had a long historical relationship with Turkey. Can I take it from the Prime Minister that every effort will be made in all channels, including diplomacy, to build on the relationship with Turkey and make the alliance stronger thus?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I was pleased to be the first western leader to call to congratulate President Erdoğan on his recent election victory. I also spoke to him last Friday and spent time with him over the past couple of days.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the role Turkey plays in the alliance, and indeed about the closeness of our partnership and friendship with Turkey, which we are looking to find ways to strengthen and deepen, whether economically, on defence or on illegal migration. The President and I had a very good conversation and agreed to do more in all those areas. He shares my ambition for a closer, deeper and stronger relationship.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

In a statement, NATO’s Secretary-General welcomed the new partnership programme with Japan and criticised China’s military advancements. What assessment has the Prime Minister made of China’s response to the statement? Does he have concerns about the vague threat that any action threatening Beijing’s rights will be met with a resolute response?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It is crystal clear that NATO is a defensive alliance. It is right that we in the UK, and indeed other NATO countries, strengthen our partnerships with nations in the Indo-Pacific. They were invited to this NATO summit because our security is indivisible—we have seen that—and the values we all share are ones that we believe to be universally true. That is why we will strengthen our personal relationships with Japan. The recent Hiroshima accords are crystal clear on that, and Japan said that it views the United Kingdom as its closest European ally. We are strengthening not just our economic relationship but, critically, our defence relationship with Japan, which is a partner, alongside Italy, in building the next generation of our fighter aircraft.