Michael Fallon is Secretary of State for Defence and PPC for Sevenoaks.
In 25 days’ time, people will be casting their votes at a time when we are seeing multiple, concurrent challenges to the international order.
In Eastern Europe, Russia is seeking to change international borders by force. In the Middle East, ISIL is spreading a new form of fascism. And in Africa, Boko Haram, is causing chaos in northern Nigeria and along its border
Britain is better placed to respond to these threats because Conservative Defence Secretaries have ensured that our armed forces have the support they need to keep Britain safe. That meant taking difficult decisions to deal with the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget that we inherited from Labour.
We had to scrap much-loved capabilities. We cancelled out-of-control procurement programmes. And, we made tough choices about the size of the armed forces – although we did so in a way that has protected our front line clout. We now have a properly funded £34 billion defence budget. The biggest in the EU and the second biggest in NATO.
The first element of Conservative defence policy is to keep Britain safe. Our brave armed forces are working 24/7 across the world to protect us. In Iraq, we are making the second largest contribution to airstrikes against ISIL after the US. In the Ukraine, British personnel are delivering training in medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity building. At the same time, we are reassuring our NATO allies through Baltic Air Policing, and significantly increasing our exercise programme in eastern Europe.
As well as all this, we were still able to dispatch a ship, helicopters and 700 personnel, with just 10 days notice, to Sierra Leone to help cut new cases of ebola from 700 a week to fewer than 10. Our Armed Forces also keep us safe at home whether the aircrews defending our skies, the Royal Navy protecting our home waters, or the military backing up the police on counter terrorism.
Second, Conservatives will ensure Britain remains at the forefront of efforts to overcome threats to the international rules-based order on which our security and prosperity depend. So we will deliver our reforms for a more agile and deployable Future Force, drawing on regulars and reserves. In contrast, the Labour Party have said they would not take these plans forward – throwing our forces into chaos at a dangerous time.
Third, a Conservative government will make sure our Armed Forces have the capabilities that they need. Over the next ten years, we are committed to spending £163 billion on equipment. That includes new Joint Strike Fighters; more surveillance aircraft; seven hunter killer submarines; two aircraft carriers; and nearly 600 of the most advanced armoured vehicles.
The future of our nuclear deterrent has become one of the big questions at this election. For 45 years, Britain has kept a ballistic missile submarine at sea providing the ultimate guarantee of security against nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail, 24/7, 365 days per year. We cannot know what nuclear threats may emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s, so the only responsible choice is to recommit to our continuous at sea deterrent now.
That is why I have announced that the Conservative manifesto will guarantee that we will build a new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines, replacing the four Vanguard boats. We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent.
This week I raised the dangers that a Labour Party propped up by the SNP would pose to renewal of our deterrent. The only way Ed Miliband can get into Downing Street is with the support of Nicola Sturgeon – and earlier this week she said we ‘better believe that Trident is a red line’.
Among the bluster in response, the central issue facing voters remains can you trust Ed Miliband not to put the nuclear deterrent on the bargaining table in some shabby back room deal with the SNP? The next Government must renew that deterrent, so that we can always keep one of our boats continuously at sea. The Conservatives are the only party to make that pledge unequivocally.
Finally, a Conservative government will always back the Armed Forces community. We have enshrined the principles of the Military Covenant in law. We are investing £1 billion in better accommodation. We have used LIBOR fines to improve childcare, and support military charities. Injured soldiers now have access to the latest prosthetics.
Supporting our troops also means protecting them from legal claims that are costing taxpayers millions of pounds and are undermining our Armed Forces. The next Conservative Government will ensure that our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job.
In Government, we have met and will this year again meet the NATO 2 per cent target. Decisions on spending beyond 15/16 are for the spending review. But we make three stronger, more specific commitments. A new triple lock that guarantees the shape, size and power of our armed forces right through to the end of the next Parliament.
First, we commit to increasing the defence equipment budget by at least one per cent more than inflation throughout the Parliament.
Second, we commit to making no further reductions in the size of our regular armed forces.
Third, we commit to modernising our independent nuclear deterrent, replacing the four existing Vanguard submarines with new submarines that will serve through to 2060.
It is only the Conservative Party with our long term economic plan that will make sure our Armed Forces have the resources they need to defend our interests and values across the world.