Attack on UkraineSpeeches

Owen Thompson – 2023 Speech on Ukraine

The speech made by Owen Thompson, the SNP spokesperson on Defence, in the House of Commons on 26 January 2023.

I, too, rise to welcome this statement and I thank the Minister for advance sight of it. I will largely echo the comments of others, because clearly all of us in this place stand united behind Ukraine and welcome the steps that have been taken. I do not think any of us can underestimate the steps taken yesterday with the decision by Germany and how difficult a decision that was for the Germans. That is most certainly worth noting. I also note that there are concerns about this next wave of mobilisation of Russian troops, the suggestion that the Russians have drafted 500,000 new recruits into their army and how quickly they may be able to mobilise.

Although I welcome the moves we have made, there is, obviously, concern about the time it is going to take to get troops up and running and feet on the ground. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s authorisation of the shipment of the 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, although I note that Ukraine’s most senior military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, said that it needs some 300 western tanks and about 600 western armoured fighting vehicles in order to make a difference. Will the Minister outline whether we will be sending any further Challenger 2 tanks, beyond this initial squadron? I note that in 2021 the Government announced that they were planning to retire about 80 tanks from the UK’s arsenal, so it is possible that some or all of those could be considered for repurposing for deployment to Ukraine, if they are fit enough for that? How is the Ministry of Defence assisting other NATO allies such as Spain that have not yet sent tanks but wish to do so?

Ukrainian forces will need time to learn how to operate this highly technical equipment, so how will UK armed forces collaborate with NATO counterparts to supply the necessary auxiliary equipment and training to make sure that Ukrainian forces can maximise that capability? Finally, what discussions has the Department had with allies to consider sending fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming weeks and months, so that we do everything we can to aid Ukraine’s struggle?

Alex Chalk

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He raises a number of very important issues. May I reiterate the point about unity across the House? He has demonstrated that, and I thank him for it.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point at the beginning about the time taken to mobilise. No apology is made for that, because, unless the time is taken to properly train the tank crews and also those who support the equipment, we will not achieve the impact that we all want to see. One thing that I am encouraged by, and I am pleased to be able to update the House about, is the extent to which we will be training those maintenance crews on a five-week course, entirely separate from the tank crews themselves, to provide the kind of deep maintenance that is needed, by which I mean if a gearbox or wheel needs to be replaced. We will be supplying not just the tanks, but the supplies and the training to ensure that those vehicles can remain on the road. The tank crews themselves will have a level of maintenance training, but there will be a deep maintenance training support package as well. In addition, there will be the ability to reach back to the UK. In other words, they will be able to communicate to the UK, “Look, this is an issue with this tank. Can you support us?” We will then provide that technical knowhow remotely.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the number of tanks. The thing that is so important, and that the Secretary of State was so clear about in his remarks in the House, is that the UK has a leadership role to catalyse other nations. That is what we intended to do and—I hope it is fair to say—that is what we have delivered. The number of tanks overall is now over 70. Two weeks ago it was zero, so we are making steps in the right direction.

The hon. Gentleman asked about other countries—Spain, for example. It is of course a matter for Spain, but I hope that it will take comfort from the fact that the United Kingdom and, indeed, Germany, as he rightly pointed out, have reached this decision, and it may be that other nations will see the way to make similar decisions. Ultimately, though, it is a matter for those other countries.

Let me address the point about armoured fighting vehicles—a point that is sometimes lost. This nation alone has donated more than 200 armoured fighting vehicles—the so-called dogs of war that we are familiar with from Afghanistan. These are big, heavy fighting vehicles with weapons capabilities that provide assistance on the battlefield.

On the issue of tanks overall, the Secretary of State has been clear that 40 tanks have been provided, which means that those existing hulls that were at low readiness will be brought forward to high readiness. That is about ensuring that our overall fleet—the fleet that remains—is more lethal and more ready for action.

As for fighters, we will just have to wait and see. This is an important step at the moment. It is one that we think has a way to go, especially as other nations will perhaps see their way forward as well.