In meetings with his counterpart Roberta Pinotti, Sir Michael Fallon said Britain was a key ally of Italy and would not be stepping back from European defence and security commitments following the Brexit vote.
They reviewed their partnership within the NATO alliance in particular. After the UK has spearheaded NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force this year, Italy will take on the responsibility in 2018.
The UK and Italy are also working closely to tackle illegal mass migration. The Defence Secretary confirmed the UK is considering providing more training to Libya’s Coastguard as part of support to Operation Sophia, which focuses on tackling human smugglers and arms traffickers who endanger the lives of migrants seeking travel to Europe.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:
In leading NATO’s high readiness force and tackling illegal migration in the Mediterranean, Britain stands together with Italy to tackle threats to our security.
The Royal Navy has played a key role in training the Libyan Coastguard and we’re now looking at extending this training alongside Italy and other European partners.
A small team of specialist Royal Navy personnel successfully trained members of the Coastguard before Christmas in the southern Mediterranean. They were taught search and rescue techniques and how to sail alongside, board and inspect vessels.
The purpose of the training, led by the Italians, is to increase Libya’s ability to secure its own borders by increasing their Coastguard’s ability to disrupt people smuggling and illegal arms trafficking in and around Libya.
Elsewhere, the UK has also supported NATO counter migration efforts in the Aegean Sea, and HMS Mersey recently returned home following six months supporting this task, contributing to nearly twelve months of Royal Navy presence in the Aegean. She will now undertake maritime security operations around the UK, maintaining the integrity of home waters.
Sir Michael added:
NATO is the cornerstone of our Defence, and the UK remains committed to European security, working with Italy and our European friends to tackle threats.
The Defence Secretary and Defence Minister Pinotti also discussed the development of the UK – Italian Defence industrial relationship, and potential trade options in the future. Sir Michael extended an invitation to host his Italian counterpart in the UK.
Sir Michael also recognised Italy’s contribution to peace operations around the world and domestically, including support to disaster relief operations after earthquakes and heavy snowfall.
HMS Echo continues to spearhead the UK’s role in Operation Sophia, and Royal Navy ships have rescued more than 15,000 of the 32,000 lives saved since operations in the Mediterranean began.
Echo has already rescued nearly 2,000 people and was involved in a rescue incident as recently as last week, when more than 500 migrants were saved.
Royal Navy vessels have destroyed more than 140 smuggler vessels, and in addition to Echo, several other ships have been involved: HMS Enterprise, HMS Bulwark, HMS Diamond, HMS Richmond and RFA Mounts Bay.