NATO Summit, Warsaw: PM's press conference – 9 July 2016

David Cameron spoke about NATO membership, Russia, terrorism, illegal migration, defence spending and the UK's nuclear deterrent.

PM gives press conference at NATO Summit 2016, Warsaw

Britain’s membership of NATO is vital for our country because it helps to keep our nation secure and our people safe.

It is vital for NATO too because for 65 years the United Kingdom has played a leading role at the heart of this successful alliance, deploying British troops alongside our Allies around the world, from Afghanistan to the Aegean to the Baltics.

We have played a key role in making sure that together we stand up to aggression, we face up to new threats, and we invest in the latest capabilities.

Wales 2014 was an absolutely key moment in NATO’s development – pledges there included the defence investment pledge, which set the ambition for all Allies to increase defence spending to meet our level of ambition.

And it was at Wales where we agreed a vital package of reassurance measures to deter Russian aggression.

Here at Warsaw, we have reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to this Alliance with concrete action to tackle the threats we face from Russia, from terrorism and from illegal migration.

Let me say a few words on each.


First, Russia. Two years on from Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine, our message to Russia has not changed. Such action is indefensible and wrong. And we will always stand up for the sovereign right of countries to make their own decisions.

But we are not seeking confrontation with Russia. Indeed, we are working to prevent it. So we will continue to pursue a twin track approach of deterrence and dialogue.

The multi-national spearhead force that we agreed at the Wales Summit is now operational. It’s capable of deploying anywhere on Alliance territory in just a few days – so it sends a strong, clear message to Russia that NATO stands ready to respond quickly to threats.

And Britain will lead the land force next year, providing 3000 troops along with tanks and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles.

We have also agreed to further reassure our Allies by increasing the number of NATO troops present along our eastern flank. And once again, the UK will play its part. On land with the deployment of 500 soldiers to Estonia early next year as well as an infantry company to be based here in Poland, and in the air by taking part in next year’s air policing mission.

But we must also engage in a hard-headed dialogue with Russia to avoid misunderstanding or miscalculation. And that’s why we have agreed that the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in many months will take place next week.


Turning to terrorism, NATO has an important role to play beyond its borders helping to prevent countries becoming a safe haven for terrorists who can threaten us here at home.

That is what we did in Afghanistan and today we have reaffirmed our collective commitment to support a more secure and stable future for that country.

The Alliance has agreed to maintain funding for the Afghan security forces through to 2020 and to keep a significant NATO troop presence into the next fighting season.

As part of this, the UK will do more to train Afghan officers. We will keep 450 troops there into 2017 and we will deploy a further 50 personnel to provide additional mentoring, particularly for the Afghan air force. We will also step up NATO’s efforts to help the Iraqi government tackle Islamist extremism.

Two years ago at the Wales summit, we agreed to offer a NATO training mission once an Iraqi government was in place.

That mission, training Iraqi forces inside Jordan, has been such a success that today we have agreed to provide counter-IED, medical and security training within Iraq.

And Britain will provide £1 million in funding to help get this up and running.

It is vital that as we work to defeat violent extremism around the world, we equip other countries to deal with these threats too.


Finally, we have discussed how NATO can work alongside other organisations like the EU to tackle different challenges such as illegal migration.

Such co-operation has proved effective in the Aegean where the NATO naval operation has helped to reduce the number of people embarking on these perilous journeys from a peak at one stage of 2700 people moving every day from Turkey to Greece to around 70 today. It has been a very strong success.

The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to contribute a ship to that mission and today I can announce that we will maintain our role with the deployment of HMS Mersey later this month to take over from RFA Cardigan Bay.

Nuclear deterrent

So here at this summit the UK has underlined the importance of the contribution we make to this Alliance – with further deployments on land, in the air and at sea.

Of course, this is only possible because we have stood by our commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on defence.

Indeed our defence spending is one quarter of the European total. We have the largest defence budget in Europe, the second largest in NATO and we are maximising our investment in the front line.

We will spend £178 billion over the next decade on equipment and equipment support. A lot of people talk about the 2% commitment, rightly, but there is also a commitment to spend 20% of your defence budget on equipment programme, again a pledge that Britain more than meets.

And we must invest in the ultimate insurance policy of all – our nuclear deterrent.

So today I can announce that we will hold a Parliamentary vote on 18 July to confirm MPs support for the renewal of a full fleet of four nuclear submarines capable of providing around-the-clock cover.

The nuclear deterrent remains essential in my view – not just to Britain’s security but – as our allies have acknowledged here today – to the overall security of the Alliance.


To conclude, I think this summit has underlined one very important message – that while Britain may be leaving the European Union, we are not withdrawing from the world, nor are we turning our back on Europe or on European security.

We will continue to be an outward-looking nation that stands up for our values around the world – the only major country in the world to spend 2% of our GDP on defence, as promised, and 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid, as promised. Only Britain, amongst the major countries, has kept those 2 vital pledges. And they massively enhance our standing and our ability to get things done in the world and our ability to keep people safe at home.

We are a country that is willing to deploy its troops to reassure our Eastern partners or to help countries further away defeat terrorists.

A country with the ultimate deterrent. And above all, a proud, strong United Kingdom that will keep working with our allies to advance the security of our nation and people for generations to come.


James Robbins from the BBC. On the Trident question, why are you bringing this vote so soon? Is it partly because you need to bolster Britain’s standing in the world? Is it partly to exploit divisions within the Labour Party? Wouldn’t it be better to leave this vote for your successor, whoever she may be?

Prime Minister

On Trident, it is a manifesto pledge to have a fully-fledged deterrent, a replacement for the 4 submarines. And we need to get on with that, we need certainty about it so the investment decisions can go ahead. So I think it makes sense to hold this vote now, to put it beyond doubt, and so our military planners and investors can get on with the investment that is needed. That is the reason for holding the vote. Obviously, the whole Conservative Party supports it, we stood on that manifesto, so I don’t think it needs to be in any way caught up in the leadership election. It’s something that Parliament should do, and will be doing on the 18 July.


Prime Minister, can I just press you on what James was asking about Trident? I mean, you leave office in a matter of weeks now. The Trident renewal will cost the country tens of billions of pounds. If a nuclear deterrent is used, it will cost tens of thousands of lives. Is it not right and proper and wise to allow your successor to lead the debate and the vote?

Prime Minister

I don’t think so, because the Conservative government was elected just over a year ago, with a very clear manifesto pledge. This issue was extensively debated in the last Parliament, when we were in coalition. Indeed, our coalition partners wanted to look at alternatives and commissioned some government work, and that was debated and discussed. So I think the issues have been thoroughly gone through, and I think actually it’s right to put it beyond doubt. It’s right to carry out a manifesto pledge. That’s what manifestos are for. And so I don’t think there’s any need to delay, and I think July is a good time to do it.


Henry Foy, Financial Times. Yesterday, French President François Hollande said that Russia was a partner, not a threat, and that NATO has no role in dictating to Europe how it should work with Russia. Do you worry that, as Britain’s voice becomes quieter inside the EU, that sort of rhetoric will increase and we’ll see a more dovish position?

Prime Minister

I was very struck, actually, at the dinner last night by the very strong consensus that of course we must have a dialogue with Russia – there are many issues we need to discuss with Russia, not least the situation in Syria – but there was a very strong consensus that we need to have that dialogue from a position of unity and strength over the issue of Ukraine. Because let’s be clear about what happened here; boundaries are being redrawn in Europe by force, by one power, and Europe and NATO must stand strong against that.

So of course we want to have a dialogue. There are many things I have myself discussed with Putin. But I’ve been very struck, actually, by the unity of purpose here, and I think that’s one of the strengths of NATO, bringing America and Canada together with European powers to discuss these issues. And so I’ve been very struck by that, and obviously we’ve got a meeting later this afternoon about how we should help Ukraine in her hour of need, and Britain’s been playing a big part in that.

But no, I’m not worried that we’ll be able to keep a strong and unified European position. Obviously Britain, as we leave the European Union, we won’t be around that table at the same time, but Europe – Britain will have to become one of the European Union’s most important partners. Today we’re in the European Union, and, as we are, we’re the second biggest economy. We’re one of the major net contributors. We’re the largest military power. We’ve got the best network of diplomatic embassies and consulates around the world. So we’re a major power inside the European Union, and in the future we’ll be a major power outside the European Union, and a partner of the European Union in discussing these security and international challenges.

My view is that the aim of our country should be to be as close as possible to the European Union when it comes to security, when it comes to diplomacy, when it comes to co-operation, when it comes to trade. In all those areas, we should seek a close relationship. But of course, the nature of that relationship will be determined by my successor. But there’s some important work to do now – and I’ll be saying a bit more about this when I go to the Farnborough air show on Monday – there’s important work we can do now to start to establish all of the things that we’re going to need, and all of the aims that we should have to make sure we put Britain in the strongest possible place to be that strong partner for the European Union.


James Hirst from Forces TV. Prime Minister, you’ve listed the very detailed commitments that Britain has made at this summit. You then closed by talking about the message being that Britain remains outward-looking and a key player after leaving the EU. Is the message of all this that, to protect Britain’s place on the world stage, the armed forces are going to become a key tool, and they have to work harder to protect our place in the world?

Prime Minister

Well, our armed forces are not just a great source of national pride, and internationally respected around the world, but they’re a very important part of Britain’s power, our ability to defend ourselves, and also our ability to project British power and British values around the world.

And, look, obviously I wanted Britain to stay inside the European Union. We’re not going to do that; we’re going to be leaving the European Union. So what we now need to do is make the most of all the relationships that we have: membership of NATO, G7, G20, Commonwealth. We’ll have to make sure that the bilateral relationships we have, including right here with Poland, we’re going to need to strengthen those.

And as I’ve said, outside the European Union, we’ve got to find the right way of being a strong partner and working with the European Union when we share interests. So if we want to be strong in the face of Russian aggression, if we want to make sure we help the countries to our south to build their resilience against Al-Qaeda or Daesh, then that’s something we can work on, I’m sure we’ll be able to work on together.

So I think our forces were in a very important position inside the European Union, they remain in an important position outside the European Union, but Britain is going to have to think through all the ways that we can keep our power and our strength in the world. Not as some exercise of national vanity; this is all about Britain’s interests, because we are an international-facing power, not least because we’ve got British people living and working in countries all over the world. We’re a trading nation, so we need to keep those sea lanes open. We’re a massive investing nation; almost every country you go to in the world, you find that Britain is the number 1, 2, 3 or 4 biggest inward investor.

And so because our interests are international, our posture as a country has to be international. Now, if it’s not going to be as part of the EU, we need to find the right mix of relationships, including with the EU, to project that power and protect those interests. Now, it’s perfectly possible to do that. I can start that work, as I said, steadying the ship and starting to get some of the charts out and working on them for the future, and then my successor will take this work forward.


Andrew Rettman from EUobserver in Brussels. To what extent did Brexit dominate the discussions at yesterday’s dinner, and what kind of questions were your NATO partners asking you?

Prime Minister

It really didn’t dominate at all. I spoke at the dinner and said I wanted to reinforce the point I’d already made, that leaving the European Union did not mean Britain was turning its back on Europe or on European security. I made the point that we’re the second-largest spender in NATO, and we account for a quarter of Europe’s defence spending, and we wouldn’t be turning our back on these things. By and large, the discussion last night was mostly about our relationship with Russia.

Inasmuch as there was a long discussion about British exit from the European Union, there was a lot of actually very generous remarks by other leaders, including particularly President Obama, who just said what a reliable partner Britain had been, whether we were dealing with Afghanistan, whether we’re fighting terrorism, whether we’re trying to stabilise other countries, whether we’re taking a unified view to the Russian incursion into Ukraine, that Britain was a strong partner and would remain a strong partner. Obviously, it’s going to be a different set of relationships, because we’ll be a country outside the European Union, but often in partnership with it, but we’ll remain a very strong partner in NATO and in those other organisations.

So no, it wasn’t a big subject of discussion. I think that people know that British people have spoken. We have to deal with the new reality, we have to deal with the problems that we will face, and I have always said there will be some problems and difficulties; we have to work through those. But there’ll also be opportunities, new ways of working, and we need to make the most of those, too, and I think that’s the spirit that people come here in, and certainly the spirit that I’ve received.


Alex Morales from Bloomberg News. Sajid Javid said the other day that he wanted to recruit 300 trade negotiators by the end of the year. Given that we don’t have that depth of talent in the UK, where will they come from? Will they have to be immigrants?

And secondly, if I may, in your conversations with President Obama, did you seek reassurances that Britain will no longer be at the back of queue? Or ‘line’ is the word.

Prime Minister

On the trade negotiators, look, obviously we are going to have to tool up in terms of preparing for trade negotiations and trade talks. Obviously, we’ll seek the talent wherever we can get it, but don’t underestimate the huge amount of talent that there is in British legal firms, British business.

I think there’s going to be a great sense within British business, most of which agreed with me that it would be better to stay in the European Union, but business people are realists, and they deal with what’s in front of them. And I found very much at my meeting with the Business Advisory Council that I had last week, there was very little actually sort of soul-searching and questioning about where we’ve got to. There was just a sense, ‘Okay, well, we don’t think that was the right decision, but the decision’s been taken, now let’s get on with it. Let’s get on with getting business to help government, getting legal services firms to help government, with all the opportunities and the actions that we’re going to have to take.’ And it’s in that spirit that I think we should go forward. So I’m sure there’ll be opportunities to listen to experts from other countries, those that have been doing these things, but also don’t underestimate the huge expertise that there is in the private and commercial sectors in Britain.

I didn’t discuss that specific issue with Barack Obama, but I think everybody knows that Britain is now in a process, of course, of working out the best end-state for leaving the European Union, how those negotiations go, what we want to achieve from them. But we don’t have to wait until that happens before we start scoping out what are the trading and investing and other opportunities, and that’s something we need to start with right away.


Deborah Haynes from the Times. How worried are you that the voices inside the European Union who are seeking to build European defence structures and headquarters are going to press ahead with that more so now once we leave?

Prime Minister

Good question. Actually, I’ve just come from a session where we were talking about what NATO should be doing to its south: what we should be doing in the Mediterranean; what NATO is currently doing in the Aegean, which is a very successful mission; what NATO should be doing to help provide greater resilience to countries threatened by terrorism. And actually, it was quite marked, I thought, that some of the old debates of, ‘Oh, you can’t do that, that’s an EU task’, and we have to have endless turf wars and turf battles, was rather absent from the debate.

So, look, I’m an optimist. I’m always hopeful – because Britain has been very strong in Europe at trying to prevent those turf wars, trying to prevent duplication, making sure that extra structures aren’t put in place that aren’t necessary. We’ve been the practical ones. So we’ve led some EU operations, including off the Horn of Africa to deal with piracy. We were right behind the NATO operation, as it were, in the heart of the EU, in the Aegean, to deal with the problem of migration. And we’re currently playing a big part in another – in an EU operation off the coast of Libya. So our view has always been, to misquote Chairman Mao, it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. Our view is let’s use what’s there to get the job done.

Now outside the EU, obviously we’ll want to make sure that we play a full part in NATO operations, and I’m sure that when there are EU operations that we agree with, there’ll be opportunities for us perhaps to partner in some way. But your question is: ‘Will Europe lose a voice that prevents some of the duplication?’ There is a danger of that. No doubt there’s a danger of that. I hope that the logic of what I’ve just said, that actually the EU and NATO should work together, is strong enough to overcome potential problems. But clearly that’s something we’re going to have to watch out for in the months and the years to come.

With that, thank you very much for coming to the press conference, and thank you for your questions.

Published 9 July 2016