Nia Griffith, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, spoke today at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Whitehall.
In a 26 minute speech, she outlined the changes Labour would make to how defence is operated, as well as a more general look at the UK’s place in the world.
She began by outlining threats; further to General Mark Carleton-Smith’s speech at RUSI last week, she spoke of increased instability, and the wide range of threats that face the UK:
“We see rising tension and growing instability around the globe, and a range of threats to the security of our citizens here at home”
Indeed she categorised ‘Brexit’ as a national defence issue, arguing that it is “one of the biggest challenges to our global strategic role since the Second World War”.
She also made plain that in the increasingly unstable and hostile environment, a Labour government would have “no higher duty than the protection of our citizens and the maintenance of national security”.
Perhaps surprisingly, Griffith spoke at greater length about the United Nations than she did about NATO. She pledged to treble the UK’s financial commitment to UN peacekeeping missions, bringing the total figure to £100m per year. Also made clear was that more UK attention would be devoted to the areas “the UN itself identifies as being key to effective peacekeeping”.
Griffith also argued passionately that the UK was well placed to lead on UN peacekeeping, given our “significant high-readiness capabilities”. She stated that our high-readiness is clearly shown in the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and the new Joint Expeditionary Force.
The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) is a pool of money (£1bn/yr) for tackling conflict and instability overseas. She committed to replacing the CSSF with “a more transparent, human rights-focussed fund”. It was unclear which government body would run this new fund, or how large the investment would be.
NATO and defence spending
She covered NATO, arguing that it “remains the cornerstone of our defence and our security, and the sole organisation for collective defence in Europe”. Despite this, she did not comment directly on defence spending. She highlighted the Defence Selected Committee’s call for for defence spending to rise to 3% of GDP, as well as Tobias Elwood’s call for 2.5%. Despite these references, she gave no indication as to the size of a Labour defence budget.
She did however condemn “short-sighted and painful cuts” to defence, arguing that capability should “not simply driven by the Treasury”.
Other headline pledges included an end to “the practice of outsourcing MoD services to the private sector”. She argued that “often these private contracts simply fail on their own terms“. She concluded by highlighting the socioeconomic value of UK based defence contracts, stating that “the case for buying British is clear“.
The full speech can be found here. She concluded by taking questions from the audience, although these were conducted off the record.