Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Theresa May

  • 21 Jun. 2018 -
  • |
  • Last updated 25-Jun-2018 17:07

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, Prime Minister.

Theresa, thank you for welcoming me here today. And thank you for your personal commitment to the Alliance. 

The United Kingdom has long led by example in NATO and you continue to do so. You lead the NATO battlegroup in Estonia. Royal Air Force jets patrol the skies over the Black Sea. And your forces are training Afghan troops to fight terrorism.

These contributions help keep us all safe. The United Kingdom also leads by example, spending 2% of GDP on defence.

I welcome the UK’s investments in major new equipment.  Including the first F-35 fighter jets which arrived here this month. 

So I know that NATO can rely on the United Kingdom. And the United Kingdom can rely on NATO. This country did not have to respond to the attack in Salisbury alone.  It had the strength and the support of 28 Allies behind it.  When NATO is needed most, Allies stand together.

As you said we have just discussed our preparations for the NATO Summit in Brussels next month. Allied leaders will meet and we will build on what we have achieved in recent years.

To further modernize and adapt NATO to the challenges we face.

We will agree:

  • to increase the readiness of our forces
  • to establish a new NATO command structure
  • to launch a new training mission in Iraq
  • to extend the funding for Afghan forces
  • and to deepen our cooperation with the European Union.

We also agree how we can strengthen our cyber defences, an area where the UK has played  key role for a long time.

All of this shows that NATO is delivering and adapting for the future.  What makes NATO unique is the bond between Europe and North America.

For nearly seventy years, North America and Europe have worked together to preserve peace.

And since the founding of NATO, the UK has been vital to keeping the transatlantic bond strong. Today, some are questioning the strength of that bond. Allies have their differences on issues like trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

But we have had differences before and the lesson of history is that we overcome these differences, every time. We have continued to unite around our common goal. To defend and protect each other. And that is exactly what NATO is doing today.

So once again, Prime Minister, thank you for your leadership in the Alliance.

Theresa May [Prime Minister of United Kingdom]: Take some questions from the media. Carl?

Question [ITV News]: Thank you, Prime Minister. Carl Didden from ITV News. Were you annoyed by reports that you had questioned whether Britain really needed to play the military role in the world that it does now? And are you committed to finding the extra money that is needed to fund the defence equipment plan?

And Secretary General, if I may, do you think Britain needs to spend a bit more to fund its equipment plan?

Theresa May [Prime Minister of United Kingdom]: Well first of all, as you’ve just heard from Jens, the United Kingdom is a leading nation, a leading member of the NATO Alliance. We’re a leading defence nation and that will continue. We are, if you just look at our defence budget, actually we're the second biggest defence budget in NATO. We're the biggest defence budget in Europe. And we have committed to significant funds, £179billion of spend on new equipment over the next decade or so. And we are also ensuring, as we've just heard, we need to look as NATO is modernising, to look, to make sure it has the capabilities for the threats of today and tomorrow. That is what we will be doing in looking at our modernising defence programme. We're a leading defence nation and we will continue to be so.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: UK has played and is playing a leading role in NATO, providing high-end, first-class capabilities, and providing a wide range of different military capabilities, conventional, cyber and nuclear. And this is important for United Kingdom and it's important for the whole Alliance. And we appreciate this strong commitment and the leadership of UK in the Alliance. Not only by providing capabilities and spending more than 2% of GDP on defence, but also by providing forces, contributions to NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, in Iraq, but also for instance leading one of the battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance. And the Prime Minister reassured me that the UK will continue to deliver, it will continue to deliver high-end capabilities, a wide spectrum of capabilities. And this is important for… because it is important for the whole Alliance that the UK continues to play a leading role in the Alliance.

Question [BBC News]: Vicky Young, BBC News. Secretary General, you talked about the bonds between NATO and North America and overcoming differences, but how confident are you that you can continue to do so? Because many people would look and say that those differences are far greater than they’ve ever been before.

And Prime Minister, the government has made clear that Heathrow expansion will play a crucial role in securing what you call Global Britain. Shouldn’t your Foreign Secretary be there on Monday, in the Commons, to vote for it?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, I am confident that we will be able to overcome the differences we see, for several reasons. First, we have done it before. We have had serious differences before, dating back to the Suez Crisis in the 50s or when France withdrew from the Command Structure in the 60s and NATO had to move its Headquarters from Paris to Brussels. Or during the Iraq War. So, it's nothing new that there are differences between NATO Allies. But what we have seen again and again, is that we have been able to overcome those differences and continue to stay united, and be united around our core task, to protect and defend each other.

Second, that’s exactly what NATO is doing now. Yes, there are disagreements and differences on trade, environment and other issues, but despite those differences we have been able to strengthen the transatlantic bond on defence and security. We see that the US, after reducing their military presence in Europe after the end of the Cold War, now the United States and Canada are coming back, with more troops, more equipment, more exercises. And during the time that President Trump has been in office, the US funding for US presence in Europe has increased by 40%. And the US is leading one of the battlegroups in the Baltic region, in Poland.

So, the fact is that we see that North America are coming back to Europe. At the same time, we see that European Allies are stepping up. All Allies have started to invest more in defence. European Allies are contributing more to the fight against terrorism. So, the reality is that we are delivering transatlantic unity in the NATO Alliance every day and expect also the Summit in July to show transatlantic unity, by making important decisions on deterrence, defence, and many other important task for NATO.

Theresa May [Prime Minister of United Kingdom]: The government is absolutely committed to increasing airport capacity at Heathrow. This is important. It is part of our future as Global Britain and the ambitions we have as a trading nation for the future. And the Foreign Secretary, early next week will be what I would describe as a living embodiment of Global Britain. He will be out there, actually showing the UK's continued presence around the world and the work that the UK continues to do around the world, with our diplomacy, working on so many of the issues and challenges that we face across the world today. Tom?

Question [The Sun]: Thank you, Prime Minister. Tom Newton Dunn from The Sun. Do you personally still believe Britain should be a Tier 1 military nation, meaning retaining the full spectrum of capabilities? And if so, because the generals appear to be getting rather nervous that you don’t, will you commit to that, using precisely that phrase now, Tier 1?

And if I may, Secretary General, are you worried that Donald Trump may, in some way, walk away from NATO next month? And has he given you his personal reassurances yet that he won't?

Theresa May [Prime Minister of United Kingdom]: Tom, in answer to your first question, the reports that you have read are not correct. We will continue to be, as we have been discussing today, continue to be, as I said earlier that leading contributor to the Alliance, but also a leading defence nation. We will continue to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. But it's also, as you’ve heard from the Secretary General, not just about what countries spend on defence, it's about what we can contribute and how we are contributing across the world today. And you’ve heard descriptions from both of us as to what the United Kingdom is doing. We will continue to be a leading member of NATO. We will continue to be a leading defence nation. And we will continue to contribute in a whole variety of ways, across conventional, cyber and nuclear capabilities.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I am absolutely confident that President Trump and the United States is committed to NATO and to the transatlantic bond, because that’s not only something the President has stated very clearly. He did so when I met him in Washington last month. He did it in meetings with me, but also publically. He stated his commitment to NATO, to Article 5. But I believe so also because that’s something they do and prove every day through actions in Europe.

The US commitment to NATO is not only in words, but also in deeds. Actions speak louder than words and we see that the US is now strengthening, increasing their presence in Europe. And I… I'm also confident that we will make decisions, all 29 Heads of State and Government, when we meet in July in Brussels for the Summit. We will make new decisions on how we can further strengthen that transatlantic bond, increasing the readiness of our forces, stepping up the efforts to fight terrorism, including training mission in Iraq, funding for the Afghan forces, strengthening our cyber-defences and establishing a new Command Structure, and many other decisions. And I cannot think about any stronger demonstration of transatlantic unity than that we make decisions together and implement them. And that’s exactly what we are going to do at the Summit.

Then there may be so much as a frank and open debate, but that’s part of being an Alliance of 29 democracies. But as long as we agree, make decisions and implement, as NATO is doing, then the transatlantic bond is strong and that’s good for Europe and good for North America.

Question: Prime Minister, how can the relationship between the US and Western Allies be fixed, apart from the NATO issues? Or should we get used to the fact that the unity is broken?

Theresa May [Prime Minister of United Kingdom]: I think that the relationship continues as it has done. There are some issues on which we disagree, a number of us disagree with the United States. We disagree for example… the Secretary General made a reference to this earlier, on the Iran nuclear deal, on issues… obviously there's the question of trade. But we come together. The point is, the relationship is that we are able to come together and discuss these issues, just as in NATO we are able to come together and discuss how we can work together and continue to cooperate together, for the benefit of us all for the… for the future. And that’s exactly what we'll continue to do in the various… obviously we're looking ahead to the NATO Summit, but we continue to do that in the various groups in which we come together. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.