The speech made by John Healey, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 9 March 2022.
I thank the Defence Secretary and his team for the way they have kept Members in all parts of the House updated and informed, and I thank him for his statement this afternoon. President Zelensky spoke for his country when he told us yesterday:
“We will not give up, and we will not lose.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 304.]
His address, like his leadership, was deeply moving and deeply inspiring. Ukrainians are showing massive bravery—military and civilians alike—and we must do all we can to support their resistance. The Government have Labour’s full backing for providing military and intelligence assistance to Ukraine to defend itself.
I welcome the Defence Secretary’s statement and the detail of the further weapons and equipment that Britain has been able to provide Ukraine to defend itself. I also welcome the role we are playing in co-ordinating help from other countries for Ukraine. Can I urge him to conclude the examination he is now giving to the provision of Starstreak missiles as quickly as possible? These are exactly the sort of ground-to-air missiles needed to defend against Russian air attacks. Can I ask him more broadly whether these supplies to Ukraine are coming solely from our UK stockpiles, or is the MOD also purchasing from other countries to respond to Ukrainian requests? Have other non-NATO, non-European countries with weaponry or well-trained air forces yet been involved?
It is clear that President Putin miscalculated the resolve of the Ukrainian military and the strength of his own Russian forces. He planned for a short campaign without the provision of logistics for protracted fighting and occupation. What is the MOD’s assessment of how far the Russians have now rectified this? I think the Secretary of State said 65%, but can he confirm what proportion of Russian forces that were on Ukraine’s borders and off her coast have now been deployed into Ukraine?
This is only still week two. Russia has such crushing firepower, and Putin has such utter ruthlessness, that we must expect more than one of his military objectives to be taken over the next few weeks. We must expect greater brutality, with still further civilian casualties. Our thoughts and prayers are with the residents of Kyiv and those other great Ukrainian cities as they face encirclement and bombardment from Russian forces.
Whatever the short-term gains Putin secures, we must make sure that he fails in the longer run through Ukrainian resistance, tougher sanctions, more humanitarian help, wider international isolation, justice for the war crimes being committed and, above all, lasting western unity. We must be ready to deal with the consequences of this invasion for many years to come. It is clear, however, that Putin has also miscalculated the international resolve to isolate Russia and the strength of western and NATO unity. Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable, and the Government again have our full support for reinforcing NATO nations on the alliance’s eastern border with Russia. The Labour leader and I fly out tonight to Tallinn to reassure Estonia of the united UK determination to defend its security and to thank our British forces deployed there from the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Welsh battlegroup.
It was Labour’s post-war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the principal architect of NATO and in particular of its article 5 commitment to collective defence. Today is the anniversary of Bevin’s birth in 1881, so today let President Putin be in no doubt that our commitment to article 5 is absolute. Let him not mistake NATO’s restraint for any lack of resolve. NATO’s response force has been activated, as the Defence Secretary has said, in response to this aggression. We welcome the detail of the UK’s contribution to that, but what role could the UK-led joint expeditionary force play? Is it not time for NATO to issue an initiating directive to the Supreme Allied Commander to plan future options as part of overhauling NATO, necessarily, for the decade ahead? Could the Defence Secretary also confirm what I think he said, which was that the 1,000 UK troops put on stand-by before the invasion are still in Britain and still on stand-by, and that we have received no requests for the humanitarian help that they were designed to respond to?
It is not the job of British forces to protect the failing Home Secretary or Border Force, especially at this critical time of conflict, but yesterday the Defence Secretary said that help for Ukrainians fleeing the war had “not been quick enough”. He also said that he was offering MOD assistance to the Home Office. Has this offer been accepted? Can he tell us what role military personnel will play, where, and for how long?
As we confront aggression abroad, we need to strengthen our defences at home. A national resilience strategy was promised a year ago. When will this be published? The integrated review, published a year ago, made the Prime Minister’s first focus the Indo-Pacific. It neglected the need to rebuild relations with essential European allies and the European Union, and it planned to cut the British Army still further. Will the Government now rethink such fundamental flaws in their integrated review?
Finally, if I may, Mr Speaker, we expect a big budget boost for Defence in the Chancellor’s spring statement in two weeks’ time. With Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Government must respond to new threats to UK and European security, just as Labour in government did after the twin towers attacks on 9/11. If the Government act, they will again have Labour’s full support.