Anne-Marie Trevelyan is MP for Berwick.
I am so proud of our world-leading British Armed Forces. It is a great honour to have been championing them in Parliament since being first elected in 2015. As a member of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme I have learnt first-hand about the huge sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country, and their amazing families who stand by them to do this most difficult of jobs – putting your life on the line for your country. Their courage and skills need to be matched by state of the art, reliable equipment which maintains military advantage over our enemies.
If we are to realise the opportunities arising from leaving the European Union, we must put our faith, and our investment, into our manufacturing industries right across the UK. That is why I want to see a continued resurgence in British manufacturing, and particularly in our shipbuilding industry as well as engineering skills growth. I have watched in awe, the construction and launch of our country’s first of two aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, a superb example of British co-operative engineering. She serves as the perfect floating embassy for the UK’s global prosperity agenda and is at the heart of our 21st century sovereign defence capabilities.
It is true that we will not need to build another aircraft carrier for another 50 years. However, during that time we will need to have ordered and built new destroyers, frigates, submarines and amphibious assault ships. We will only be able to build these ships for the Royal Navy if we preserve and grow skills in design, manufacturing, and shipbuilding. Britannia ruled the waves because of our sailors and the ships they served in – built in Britain by a world-class British skilled workforce. This needs to be how we build our 21st century Royal Navy.
As an unapologetic supporter of free markets and competition to drive up quality and value for money, I reject the premise of some that the state should endlessly intervene in our economy. But I want to ensure that my constituents are properly defended, that our island nation has the sustainable, resilient and strong defences it needs, delivered by the Royal Navy. To do that, we need to have a permanent and sustainable shipbuilding industry across the UK. We must preserve and develop the skills and expertise to build the ships our Navy needs. And its economically the right thing to do.
For the last two years, I have been proud to been part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair. Perhaps not the most exciting name for a group of MPs passionate about their Navy’s capability, but for a strong Royal Navy there are fewer more important voices. Together with Labour MPs, Kevan Jones, Luke Pollard, and Paul Sweeney (yes, I am the only Tory, and woman, in our APPG), we have been making a cross-party pitch for the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships to be built in Britain. It makes no sense for British taxpayers to fund lucrative contracts for work abroad to shipyards supported by state aid. If the Treasury would agree to discuss and change the financial models used to determine contract value-for-money, then we would see British ships, built in British shipyards, by British workers.
Building them in Britain keeps our shipyards working so we can continue to build and repair military ships. By building them in Britain we ensure that the work goes to British companies, taxes go to the UK exchequer, and countless apprentices are trained, who will contribute to the future of the post-Brexit British economy for years to come. If we can maintain a flow of shipbuilding, then we can start to export our second hand ships and keep the cashflow circulating – build ten, sell number one, build number eleven and so on. We can start to create a Navy with up-to-date kit, saving on the needless maintenance and life-extending costs we have incurred for decades by failing to create a constant flow of shipbuilding.
The campaign to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Fleet Solid Support Ships is cross-party, but perhaps most of the voices heard have been those of Labour MPs speaking with the voice of the unions. I believe that the arguments for UK shipbuilding warrant a Conservative voice too. I am hopeful that Penny Mordaunt, our first female Defence Secretary and fierce defender of our armed forces, will see the economic and skills development sense for building these ships here. Sending yet another big contract to a foreign shipyard, while British workers are laid off in shipyards is simply financial and human capital bonkers. It would not only be a travesty for those workers and their families, but it would reduce our sovereign defence capabilities.
Skills needed to build complex warships, submarines, and supply vessels cannot be turned on and off like a tap, they need decades of investment in skills. Once we lose the skills, it takes a generation to retrain, as we saw with our submarines. That is why this Conservative Government asked Sir John Parker to create our National Shipbuilding Strategy – to review, assess and then set out what needs to be done to ensure a continuous pipeline of work for these yards. After publishing such a forward-thinking document, we now need to deliver on it and ensure that the contract to build the next generation of Support Ships – each of them 2/3 the size of the aircraft carrier – in British shipyards.
The patriotic and economic case for the Royal Navy demands that the Ministry of Defence, assisted by a Treasury which understands and supports the right financial model, sets the new drumbeat of shipbuilding in British yards for the decades ahead. We must preserve our existing skilled workforce and train the next generation. The Government is clear that defence’s mission is to protect, project, and promote British interests. World class British shipbuilding is critical to achieving that mission.