The speech made by John Healey, the Shadow Defence Minister, in the House of Commons on 24 October 2023.
Members from across the House, and people across the world, are rightly focused on the middle east after Hamas’s horrific attacks. That terrorism must be condemned, civilians must be protected, humanitarian corridors must be opened, international law must be followed, and escalation risks must be managed. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s Gulf visit later this week, and I hope that he will report back to us in the House. I also welcome President Biden’s oval office address, in which he said:
“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy”.
Today lets President Putin know that the UK remains focused on, and united in, solidarity with Ukraine.
Last week, as the Minister said, we passed the grim 600-day milestone since Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. War still rages, cities are still bombed, and civilians are still raped and killed. Ukraine has made important gains in recent days on the Dnipro river. Will the Minister update the House on that? I am proud of the UK leadership on Ukraine, but we must work to maintain that leadership and accelerate support. I fear that UK momentum is flagging. There has been no statement on Ukraine to Parliament from the new Defence Secretary since his appointment in August, and no statement from any Defence Secretary in this House since May.
Labour backs the recent announcements on UK military aid, the new British Army training to protect critical infrastructure, and the £100 million, raised with allies, that will come from the International Fund for Ukraine, but Ukrainians are asking for winter support, air defence, and more ammunition—and where is the UK’s planned response? No new money for military aid for Ukraine has been committed by this Prime Minister. The £2.3 billion for this year was pledged by his predecessor, and the £2.3 billion for last year was pledged by her predecessor. This year’s money runs out in March. Seven months after announcing £2 billion for UK stockpiles in the spring Budget, not a penny has been spent and not a single contract signed. Why? Putin must be defeated, just as Hamas must be defeated. We must not step back. We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to win.
I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s words about the despicable attack from Hamas and the absolute right of Israel to defend itself. As I said, I believe strongly that it is important that Putin does not see this as a moment of opportunity to sow more chaos, and does not think that the western donor community is distracted or has a preference for supporting Israel over Ukraine. He must know that our resolve is to support both.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly noted that the Secretary of State will be in the Gulf later this week. I am sure that he will want to talk about what he hears there, but I suspect that he will also want to keep some of that counsel private, as we seek to calibrate how we posture ourselves in the region in order to reassure our allies and deter those who might seek to make a bad situation even worse. The Secretary of State was in Washington last week, and has had a number of calls with other partners around the region. So too have the Chief of the Defence Staff and I, as part of a Ministry of Defence-wide effort to ensure that we constantly calibrate our response alongside that of those who we traditionally work with in the region, and we make sure that nothing we do is misinterpreted.
The right hon. Gentleman and I are, I think, friends, so there is some dismay that he dismisses all my efforts at the Dispatch Box to keep the House updated on the war in Ukraine. I stood here as recently as 11 September to lead an excellent debate on the subject, and have given a number of statements on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman is so rank-conscious as to deem my efforts unworthy, but I have done my best.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to the fact that the excellent financial contribution made over the two previous financial years is, as yet, unconfirmed for the next financial year. It will not surprise him to know that that has already been the subject of conversation across Government. It is not for me to make that announcement in an urgent question today, but a major fiscal event is forthcoming, and I know that he will not have to wait too long. That does not mean that our plans are uncertain. In fact, I push back strongly on the suggestion that they are. For a long time over the past two years, there has been a sort of misunderstanding that the UK’s capacity to gift is entirely either from our own stockpiles or from our indigenous industrial capacity. The vast majority of what the UK gifts is what we are able to buy internationally, often from countries that Putin would prefer were not providing us with that stuff. However, we have been able to get our hands on it and get it to the Ukrainians with some haste. That is exactly the sort of thing that the right hon. Gentleman asked about.
It is about the small but necessary things, such as winterisation equipment, small arms ammunition, artillery ammunition and air defence ammunition, and our ability to buy that while in parallel stimulating UK industry. I reject what the right hon. Gentleman said about contracts having not been placed; substantial contracts have been placed directly to replenish UK stockpiles of NLAWs, Starstreak, lightweight multi-role missiles, Javelin, Brimstone, 155 mm shells and 5.56 mm rifle rounds. As far as I can see, there is a steady state contribution to the Ukrainians that amounts to tens of thousands of rounds per month, plus air defence missiles, plus all the small stuff, alongside the replenishment of our own stockpiles, which can only happen at the pace at which industry can generate it, but none the less it is happening.