Ben Wallace – 2022 Speech to Conservative Spring Conference

The speech made by Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, in Blackpool on 19 March 2022.

Good morning Conference.

Before I begin, can you all join me in giving a very warm welcome to the Ukrainian Ambassador – Vadym Prystaiko.

Vadym, we are extremely pleased to welcome you here today.

Conference, I can’t tell you how nice it is to be here.

How genuinely nice it is to be home. Not only because Blackpool is next to my wonderful constituency of Wyre and Preston North but also because Lancashire is where I live and because as a county it is one of the places that helped shape the modern Conservative party.

If we can win in Lancashire, we can win the country.

Every year in this town, veterans of my regiment, the Scots Guards, meet here to remember the Falkland Islands and the Battle of Tumbledown.

This year it will be especially important as we mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands Islands from the grip of the Argentinian Military dictator General Galtieri.

Many said it couldn’t be done. That sending a force 8000 miles to the south Atlantic was an impossible task.

But history is littered with those that underestimate this plucky island.

General Galtieri was not the first dictator to do so.

While many here will remember the amazing Sea Harrier and the battles of Tumbledown, Goose Green and Mount Kent we sadly can also remember the 255 British lives lost and also the lost lives of the young Argentinians who were sent so needlessly in order to save a dictator’s political position.

There were many stand out contributions to that campaign.

But Margaret Thatcher stood out for her leadership and determination to stand up for the values and freedoms we all hold so dear.

By her leadership she equipped the forces with the most important weapon of all. – the moral component:

That deep sense that what we were fighting for was legal, justified and right.

Today that same moral component is what is arming the men and women of Ukraine.

Who would have thought that 31 years after the end of the cold war we would be once again facing such a direct threat to our freedoms and values.

As we gather today, spare a thought for the brave Ukrainians fighting the occupying forces of Russia as we sit here in comfort.

I am proud of what the UK has done to add to that moral fight.

Through Boris Johnson’s leadership on sanctions and military aid, Britain has led the way.

Since 2015, we have helped train Ukrainian forces, underwritten equipment sales when no one else would, and we were the first in Europe to join the US in sending defensive weapons to the forces of Ukraine.

To date we have sent over 4000 of our new light anti-tank weapons (known as NLAWs), a further consignment of Javelin anti-tank missiles and thousands of items of body armour and other defensive equipment.

But we also have led, alongside Poland and the US, the distribution of many other nations’ donations.

Just like 1982, Putin’s arrogant assumptions have directly led to the level of casualties and attrition amongst the Russian army.

The Kremlin assumed that Ukraine would not fight – he was wrong.

He assumed that his Army was invincible – he was wrong.

And he assumed that the international community would splinter – he was wrong.

We have never been more united on sanctions, on military aid and in NATO.

The deaths of so many young Russian soldiers are the responsibly of the Kremlin.

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan mothers of those killed in action called the dead “boys in zinc” because of the zinc-lined coffins that came back.

None of us should let today’s Russian President forget that despite dozens of Presidents and Prime Ministers urging him not to invade, he did.

The International community called for peace. President Putin chose “zinc”.

The UK can and will do more to help Ukraine.

That’s why last week I announced that we would be upgrading our aid to include the Starstreak anti-air missile.

But the UK doesn’t just stop there. We are standing by our NATO and European partners.

Countries such as Poland, Romania and the Baltic states who border the conflict.

President Putin has been clear in his threats that all of us are at risk.

So in the last few months I have sent 450 soldiers to Poland to help with engineering, air defence and humanitarian tasks. We have also added another Battlegroup in Estonia and at the same time increased Typhoon and F-35 deployments over Romania and Bulgaria. Typhoon jets, that, by the way, are made here in Lancashire.

Conference, I used to joke to my officials that “defence never sleeps”. It turns out my joke is a little flat because it turns out to be true.

Over the last 3 years we have been at the forefront of the COVID response, the evacuation in Afghanistan and now Ukraine. My team of excellent Ministers – Baroness Goldie, Jeremy Quinn, James Heappey and Leo Docherty – never stop working and delivering, both on operations and on defence reform.

But even before the events of the last 2 years the Prime Minister’s generous defence settlement of an additional £24 billion over this 4-year spending round, has enabled us to once and for all have a proper defence programme that puts the men and women of the armed forces at the heart of all we do.

The defence command paper we published in March last year was very timely and many of the reforms we are delivering are right for this competitive age.

But defence isn’t about just the front line. It is also about everything that goes on behind it. The defence industry, the training and skills, the civil servants, and veterans’ services. Behind every front line is a strong support base.

The failures of the Russian Army in Ukraine show us that, unless you invest in the people, then nothing can achieved. Defence and levelling up go hand in hand.

As a Lancashire MP I am incredibly proud of our Prime Minister’s determination to level up the UK and to invest in skills and jobs up and down the country.

After COVID we all have a duty to “Build Back Better”.

Through the Ministry of Defence’s Defence and Industrial Strategy, supported by £6.6 billion of investment into R&D over this 4-year spending round, we are ensuring that the UK continues to have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries, that underpin national security, drive investment and prosperity across the Union, and contribute to strategic advantage through science and technology.

A great example of this is the new Defence Science and Technology Laboratory due to be opened next week in Newcastle Helix.

The location of the new unit, with its proximity to world-class universities with a high proportion of STEM and computing students, will allow it to thrive.

Supporting world-class defence development from the heart of Newcastle, whilst also supporting new jobs in the North East. Newcastle is DSTL’s first established Science and Technology Hub and will specialise in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science.

AI and Data Science will benefit from a £142 million investment from DSTL over the next four years.

This is not the only new Defence investment taking root in the North.

Last autumn I announced that the recently established National Cyber Force will be permanently located in Samlesbury, Lancashire.

The site will contribute to national security whilst also boosting skills, employment, and investment in the local area, delivering on this Government’s commitment to level-up whilst also bringing together Government, skills and industry to build a world-class capability.

Backed by over £5 billion of investment before 2030 and run jointly by the MoD and GCHQ, the new Northern site is due open in 2023 and will sit between Blackburn, Preston, Bolton and Burnley and create thousands of skilled jobs in a region with award-winning further education colleges, world class universities, and a thriving defence and aerospace sector.

And, further delivering against this Government’s pledge to level-up and decentralise, I can announce that new home of Defence Business Services (the organisation that support the MoD’s financial and HR services as well as Veterans UK) will be right here in Blackpool.

Conference, just last year Labour claimed that our new plan for UK defence ‘risked the UK being out of step with our NATO allies’.

Quite to the contrary, the principles set out in the Prime Minister’s Integrated Review have served NATO and our allies well in this dark hour.

Of course I welcome that our policy has attracted support from across the House.

Let us not forget, that many members of Labour’s front bench, were also on the front bench of Jeremy Corbyn – who wanted to abolish NATO, AND blamed the West for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In contrast, the year of the Falklands conflict, Mrs Thatcher told the Conservative Party Conference that “peace, freedom and justice are only to be found where people are prepared to defend them.”

That remains the case today.

40 years ago the 74 days of the Falklands conflict tested the resolve of the British nation, but freedom prevailed.

I am proud that today we see that same resolve across all generations standing in support of Ukraine.

Slava Ukriani.