Gavin Williamson: UK must match Russia's military might in the face of Putin's 'hostile intent'
Gavin Williamson has insisted that the UK must match Russia's military might in the face of clear 'hostile intent' from Vladimir Putin.
The Defence Secretary called on Britain to 'wake up' to Russia's 'hostile and aggressive' threat and said the country needed to 'match what Putin is doing with Russian forces'.
He also said that Brexit was not a step towards reducing security in Europe and hailed the UK's 'strategic global partnership' with the USA.
During Defence Questions, Mr Williamson was asked by Labour's Barry Sheerman about comments Mr Putin made in a state-of-the-nation speech last week.
Mr Sheerman said: "Surely the Secretary of State knows that what Mr Putin announced a few days ago was basically a new Cold War.
"And it's not just cyber warfare - it's every kind of warfare, at a time when Europe seems to be fragmenting, our commitment to Nato is deeply hurt by Donald Trump moving into a new phase of withdrawal.
"What are we going to do about all this?"
South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson replied: "Putin has made it quite clear that he has hostile intent towards this country.
"We've been seeing the build up of his forces across the Eastern Front and in terms of what they're doing over many years now - we have to wake up to that threat and we have to respond to it.
"And it is not just through nuclear weapons – our continuous at sea nuclear deterrent is absolutely integral to maintaining the peace - but it is also through conventional armed forces.
"We have to match what Putin is doing with Russian forces, we have to be aware of the challenges that they face and that's very much why we are engaging in the Modernising Defence Programme to ensure that we can match the Russians going forward."
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards later asked what the Government's policy response was to 'these worrying developments as the world slides needlessly into a second Cold War'.
Mr Williamson said: "Let's be really clear.
"President Putin has been developing a much more hostile and aggressive posture towards the United Kingdom, towards the United States, towards our allies, for an awful lot longer than the last 12 months.
"They want to assert their rights...we've seen an increased Russian activity in the North Atlantic, a 10-fold increase over the last few years.
"And do we sit submissively by, do we just accept that President Putin can do whatever he wishes to do, or do we have to look at how we respond and make it clear that we're not willing to stand up to bullying – the fact that nations are being subjected to attacks by Russia.
"We need to deal with that, that's what we will do and that's why I am proud we have a continuous at sea nuclear deterrent."
Mr Williamson also stressed the importance of NATO to world peace and said that Brexit was not 'a step to making Europe less safe'.
Implored not to listen to 'Trump bashing' and anti-USA sentiments by Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant, Mr Williamson said: "There is one reason that we have had peace right across the continent of Europe since the Second World War.
"And that is down to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and the fact that it acts as a deterrent against those who wish to prosecute aggressive campaigns against the west.
"I'm very proud of the work that has been done, and will be done in the future with our allies."
The Defence Secretary was asked by Tory MP Julia Lopez what role he saw the UK having post-Brexit in ensuring the EU's future defence plans 'enhance NATO rather than detract from it'.
"I think there have always been traditional tensions within the European Union as to which way they would like to take the European Union's role in defence.
"But we want to work with our EU partners and we must not forget that 80 per cent of NATO's defence is provided by countries outside of the European Union.
"We shouldn't see leaving the European union as a step towards making the continent of Europe less safe.
"Indeed, it is fair to say that before the EU was invented, NATO was already doing that incredibly successfully in the decades before.
"I think that we want to have the opportunity to work closely with our [EU] partners, but we want to equally make sure it does not detract from the amazing work that NATO does."
Labour's shadow defence spokeswoman Nia Griffith accused the Government of putting ideology above needs of defence suppliers by pursuing 'an extreme Brexit'.