3 February 2023
JAMES CLEVERLY, UK FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think you tell by the tone that I, if no one else at least, have really enjoyed the last couple of days that the UK Defence Secretary and myself and spent with our Australian counterparts. And it has reinforced what is a very long standing, very intimate bilateral relationship which is embedded in so much shared history, but is being renewed, refreshed, enhanced, strengthened for what is an incredibly challenging environment in the here and now, but a future that is seeded with a huge number of opportunities for our two countries. Over the last couple of days we have seen British and Australian Armed Forces training members of Ukrainian Armed Forces to help them defend themselves against Russian aggression, an incredibly moving set of circumstances there. And we have had the chance today to talk about a wide range of bilateral topics, regional topics, talking about the UK’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and the incredibly important role that our relationship with Australia has in helping us realise our aspirations and also supporting Australia in her aspirations as well. So, because there are four of us, and because our Australian guests do actually have a flight to catch, I'm going to hand over to Ben to say a few words, then invite our Australian guests do likewise. And then we'll try and take some questions from both the British and Australian media. Thank you. Ben.
BEN WALLACE, UK DEFENCE SECRETARY: Thank you, James. It's been a delight to host our friends here in Portsmouth. And Portsmouth’s put on an amazing show for them, as well as Salisbury Plain where yesterday we took a helicopter ride down to visit Australian troops training Ukrainians. In the middle of their summer, your troops came thousands of miles, to give up their summer, to help lead and train Ukrainians. And the experience when you go to visit them is quite how rewarding it is for the soldiers that the Australians, or the other nine nations doing that training, when they see these brave Ukrainians. And we obviously had an afternoon on Salisbury Plain and then it's been a really good session for all of us, I think. I mean, for me, this is my second AUKUS meeting, and I'm delighted the new government of Australia is in place and it's been really good to meet, obviously, for the first time, my friend, Penny, the Foreign Minister, but for I think the third or fourth time now, Richard, the Deputy Prime Minister. And it is important that we recognise that, you know, sadly the rules based order is under threat like never before, that human rights are being threatened by a range of characters around the world, and indeed, people are testing the sovereignty of nation states in a way that should worry us all. And whether you are in Ukraine, or whether you are in the far Pacific - from the United Kingdom’s point of view, those values are true and are worth standing up for. Whether that's freedom of navigation, so much of that treaty and that upholding of that treaty comes from this very town Portsmouth, the home of the Royal Navy in history. They are important for our existence and our trade. And they're actually important for the regards to the rule of law. And I think it is sad that you know, come 2023 we are seeing a reversal of that, and only by us all sticking together, working together and showing the way to many of our friends and allies around the world that there is a way forward from that, then I think we can, you know, provide hope for future generations. So AUKUS, obviously the defence, but also the sort of political will behind AUKUS with the United States is about delivering, you know, some actual hard power necessarily and capabilities behind that aspiration to stand up the rules based system. But also, you know, the two plus two that you see today is another step towards closer working together. We've worked today on areas around Pacific cooperation, around global cooperation, and around others that you'll see in the communique about what more we can do for each other. And as militaries of highly professional standards we respect - our military respects greatly the Australian military. We like working together, our Navies do as well, and you know as we speak we have two warships and permanently based in the Pacific and there’ll be more of that to come. So I'm delighted to have hosted you all and I think we've made some real progress that we’ll build on, and that the communique alludes to. Thank you very much.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, today we've had a very successful AUKMIN meeting. And on behalf of Penny and I, we really want to thank James and Ben for hosting us. But it's not just been the formal meeting today, In fact, really the time that we've spent together over the last two days has been really valuable and an absolute treat, culminating in a lunch just with the four of us aboard HMS Victory. And what's really struck me over the course of the last two days is the commonality of view amongst the four of us about the complexity of the challenges that we face in the world today, challenges to the global rules based order. In Eastern Europe, in the Indo-Pacific. There is a very high degree of alignment in the way in which we see the world, and we are thinking about it, and thinking of what we need to do as two nations working together. A sense of shared mission is really what characterises the way in which Australia and United Kingdom are going about its work and there was no better example of that and what all of us here witnessed yesterday when we saw our Defence Force personnel working together to train Ukrainian forces. And as we as we watched them do a drill about encountering a mind in the face of artillery fire, it was hard not to be struck by the idea that, as they were doing this drill now, in a very short period of time, what they were doing, they could easily be doing for real and the significance of that and the importance of the training that has been provided, the way in which that will save lives and contribute to the effort which will keep Ukraine in the fight so that they can determine the end of this conflict on its own terms, the seriousness of that was very present and, and the sense of working together was very clear. That in a larger sense is clearly happening in its most profound way through the United Kingdom and the United States working together with us through the architecture of AUKUS to help Australia acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability. As I've said previously, this is a huge moment in our country's history. This will change Australia's international personality. It will dramatically build our capability and with that it will build our sovereignty. But the significance of Britain and America working together to help us have that technology is one which in international terms is also highly significant. And what it really means is that for us, our oldest relationship, a relationship which is characterised by deep people-to-people links, by a significant presence of Brits in Australia and Australians here in Britain. Through this, is now being given a contemporary expression and a very full agenda as we look to the future.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you very much. Can I first just thank James and Ben for their hospitality, for hosting us in this extraordinary location. Richard said he was going to be distracted for most of the AUKMIN meeting because it was so magnificent. And to say to you both how much we appreciate what you've shown us here. This has been a profoundly important, profoundly rewarding meeting between our two countries. We share extraordinary alignment, we share history, we share interests, we share values, and we have a sense of shared purpose. But for me, one of the things that I've most appreciated has been the trust and openness with which we've engaged with each other, which is so important at this time, given the challenges that we face. We all are aware of the strategic circumstances we face in different theatres and we are deeply committed to working with each other to protect, safeguard the sort of world we want our children to live in. A world which is peaceful, stable, prosperous, respectful of sovereignty, one in which the rule of law, international law and norms is protected. I also want to say again, how moved I was to visit, to engage with, both the Australian personnel and British personnel and the Ukrainian soldiers yesterday and to express my thanks again for what was a very moving visit and a reminder of why we are all here, and what is at stake in Ukraine, and to thank the United Kingdom for their leadership on Ukraine. Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Question for Secretary Wallace. You've previously said in relation to the proposed submarine build that it will be a truly collaborative project. Is what we're talking about here a whole new class of submarine and something that will be common to all three nations?
SECRETARY WALLACE: Well I think you'll have to wait for the Australian Cabinet to make its final decision on their proposals and I think then, it is for Australia to reveal what options it settled for. Whatever the options are, and there are a range of them, you know, it is a joint endeavour. Whether that is the sharing of technology and the understanding of how to do it, the sharing of the build, or the sharing of the design. So, whatever option is chosen by Australia, it will be collaborative and that statement stands. But what those details are for the Australian Government to set out at a time that it's appropriate to do so.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That is the answer to the question.
REPORTER: Thank you, a question to the Defence Secretary. The Chancellor last year said we must put our money where our mouth is and prove we understand the first duty of government is to keep our people safe. What's your message to the Treasury on this and getting the funding that you need ahead of the budget? And would you consider resigning position, resigning if you don't? And if I may, on fighter jets in Ukraine, is it better to send them sooner rather than later, as Boris Johnson said yesterday?
SECRETARY WALLACE: First of all, we've got a budget coming up in March, there's plenty of water to go under the bridge between now and then. I had a meeting with the Chancellor earlier this week. We are obviously, like all the departments, in negotiations. Remember we had a significant settlement from 2020 and that spending envelope runs until the end of 2024-25 and, you know, of course, I look in the short term for funding to mitigate the impacts of things like inflation. I have a very big capital budget, and that will form part of the negotiations with the Treasury. What is most important is the continuation of the statement the Chancellor said and the Autumn Statement, which is a recognition in government that when we get towards the next spending review, there's a recognition that as the world gets more dangerous unstable, defence should continue to get a growing proportion of spend. We can then debate how much that proportion should be, but my point is the direction of travel is the world is more dangerous and unstable and likely to remain so for a decade or two. And I think that's just about changing that perception. The Chancellor was kind enough to grant that. He said that in his statement in autumn. I think that's more important than necessarily the next two years, the here and now, dealing with things that other departments do such as inflation. But we'll negotiate and you won't find any defence secretary in the world who doesn't sit there and say, I could do some more money.
REPORTER: A question for you Foreign Secretary and a quick one for the Foreign Minister as well. Foreign Secretary, your counterpart offered you some advice this week about engaging in the Indo-Pacific and the need to talk honestly and truthfully about Britain's colonial past. Do you agree that your imperial past could be a handbrake on your diplomatic efforts to counter the Chinese narrative? And for Minister Wong, Minister Trevelyan said when you were in conversation with her the other night at King's College, she said the AUKUS nuclear subs program would allow Australia to manage the Indo-Pacific and Australia could play a role a bit like the British Navy played in centuries gone by when countering piracy on the high seas. Do you endorse that sort of characterisation of what the nuclear submarines will bring to Australia?
SECRETARY CLEVERLY: This is my first opportunity to meet Penny face to face, obviously we had had the opportunity to speak on the phone before the meeting. But I have to say the conversations that we have had on the UK-Australian relationship, on the UK’s relationship with other countries in the region, and indeed, the nature of the relationship between the UK and other countries which are now in the Commonwealth but which were previously British colonies, was one of the areas of conversation that we had. However, two points to make. Firstly, it wasn't the mainstay of the conversation we've been having. The mainstay of the conversations we've been having is about our future joint work, of joint endeavours with regard to security, prosperity, technological advancement, whether it be through AUKUS or other things. That was the mainstay. But where we did touch upon the UK’s history and our relationship with the world is about recognising you cannot eradicate or erase your history, so you need to be conscious of it. And I think it is incumbent upon the UK in our dealings with Australia or any other country with which we were once a colonial power to recognise that that we need to demonstrate that this is a modern partnership. Partnership of equals. Different but equal. Geographically separated, but emotionally and historically bound. So there's been, I don't want to put words in your mouth and you'll tell me if I'm wrong, there's been no tension, no awkwardness, there's been perhaps more than a little bit of humour about how often our history is portrayed, both here in Portsmouth and in London. But I tell you something, I am left at the end of this two days working closely with my Australian counterparts absolutely confident that this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
FOREIGN MINISTER: I want to make two points if I may. The first is that the modern face of Australia and the modern face of Britain, which is I think apparent here in this room, is one of the ways in which we can make ourselves more strong - stronger and more influential in the world. And I'd made the point that, you know, at a the time of strategic competition we have to make sure we are not being framed by others, and we frame ourselves. And I think having James as my counterpart is enormously rewarding, enormously valuable and I really deeply appreciated our engagement. In relation to the broader issue about how we conceive of, and envisage the submarine capability. I've said previously, including in my discussions with ASEAN, my discussions at the East Asia Summit, and elsewhere, Australia seeks a submarine capability and we are deeply appreciative of the collaboration which is enabling that to occur, because we want to contribute to the sort of region we want. That is why we seek a submarine capability that is part of, along with other elements of national power, but centrally in order to contribute to a region that is stable, prosperous, peaceful, and in which sovereignty is respected. That's where Australia is coming from.
REPORTER: Defense Secretary, you seem to be in a public disagreement with your Veterans Minister. You, in the House of Commons, talked about underfunding and the hollowing out of our Armed Forces. Johnny Mercer says that's patently untrue. Can you clarify what did you mean by hollowing out?
SECRETARY WALLACE: Johnny Mercer clarified in a tweet that he didn't refer to me, so your premise of your question is probably wrong. But the Armed Forces has been hollowed out for last 30 years. It's why we granted, in 2020, 34 billion pounds to the Army to modernise its fleet. So if it wasn't hollowed out, why would we spend 34 billion pounds on its fleet? I mean, that's, that is a fact. But there's no public dispute, private or public, with me and Johnny Mercer. The simple reality is that in 2020 the Prime Minister of the day recognised that defence had gone beyond taking a peace dividend in 1991, to being continued, sort of defunded for so long, and the world had changed. It's why we got to record settlement of 24 billion pounds over the four year spending period, which enabled me to unlock both some reforms but also an equipment program that is pretty hefty. I mean, 34 billion between now and 2032 for the Army alone’s equipment (inaudible) is a significant step. I think the real key behind this is, these aren't instant, right, you do not suddenly develop a tank factory or a missile factory overnight. And so delivering that modernisation is going to take time, and anyone who thinks it isn't should even look at our adversaries. They don't have magic wands either. So that is the direction of travel.
REPORTER: Can I just ask you all one last question. How did it feel to have dinner on board Nelson's flagship?
FOREIGN MINISTER: It was fantastic.
SECRETARY WALLACE: We had lunch, it was lunch today.
REPORTER: Was it a good lunch?
SECRETARY WALLACE: Yeah, lovely.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It was a really good lunch, but it was great company in an extraordinary place.
FOREIGN MINISTER: And we went over time, substantially.
REPORTER: Just on the question of jets, Mr Wallace, you seemed to suggest that it wasn't a hard no, it was just a ‘not yet’. But with the fact that the tanks aren't going to arrive for some time aren't we running a risk of allowing the Russians to make gains, you know, even beyond perhaps Bakhmut, while the Ukrainians wait for that kind of heavy armour they need?
SECRETARY WALLACE: Well, first of all, not very far away from here the Ukrainians arrived on Monday to start training on those tanks. And, you know, training people on different technologies that are greater than just handheld weapons takes time. Whether it's a Leopard tank or a Challenger tank, they're not going to arrive tomorrow morning. We could send them tomorrow morning, but actually what we need to do is make sure that we train the Ukrainians to fight them properly, and that they are part of a formation such as a battalion level, and the United States are going to do training of formation level. So these things do take time. It's really important. But it's also why last year, basically from August, I pushed to start the process of training, both in specialty and indeed basic training, which is what we saw yesterday. So getting the population of the military of Ukraine trained is the first step and then obviously adding them to the equipment. And of course, we go up that ladder. But on the process of jets, I've been pretty clear that you know, one thing I've learned over the last year is don't rule anything in or rule anything out. Right, I mean, that is the simple reality, is we respond to the needs of the Ukrainians at the time, based on what the Ukrainians tell us, what we see in things like intelligence, and our knowledge of the Russians on the battlefield. And right now, what the Ukrainians need is the ability to form military formations on the ground in order to use combined arms manoeuvre to push back Russian forces. Okay, because that is how you defeat the human wave attacks that the Russians are currently having to resort to, and they are resorting to. They're resorting to First World War level type of attacks with subsequent casualties to match. So I think the issue here, and it's easy to sort of get carried away and you know, last week we gave tanks and what next can we promise? There are things to promise next and, you know, I've said in the Chamber of the House of Commons, I’m very open to examining all sorts of systems, and not just jets, to give Ukraine that assistance. But these things don't always happen overnight. What I can say is we’re not putting Ukrainians at risk. You know, even if tomorrow morning we announced we were going to put them in fast jets, that would take months. I mean, you know, you're suddenly having to learn to pilot fast jet et cetera. So, there is no magic wand in this horrendous conflict, other than the very real danger that young men and women of the Ukrainians have to get up, march forward, and take territory back from Russians. That is what they are doing every day, as we stand here right now, and are taking losses as a result. And the very least we can do is help them to have that equipment, and to help them have that training, to make sure they have the best chance of survival. That's how the international community can help Ukraine defeat Putin in Ukraine. That's the key. And let's not forget the sacrifice they are making not only on their own behalf, but also for the freedom of Europe.
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