The Blog

The Lib Dems Are The Grownups On National Security

The Conservative Party has become cavalier about the security of the United Kingdom. Labour is even worse. As the Liberal Democrats' record shows ours is the only party that has consistently acted as a mature, prudent defender of our country's security.
Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick

The political world has turned topsy turvy in many ways in recent years. In China the Communists glorify getting rich. In the US a billionaire poses as the champion of the working man. The amoral Kremlin funds the right wing in France and the left wing in Spain and Greece. And here in Britain the PM has found a way to stop Boris Johnson from making rude remarks about foreign leaders.

But one dramatic change of political stripes has attracted little notice: The Conservative Party has become cavalier about the security of the United Kingdom. Labour is even worse. As the Liberal Democrats' record shows ours is the only party that has consistently acted as a mature, prudent defender of our country's security.

Compare the Lib Dems' and the other major parties' positions on the three issues that have defined our security. First, the invasion of Iraq. Politically aware Britons, certainly those who were old enough to vote when the US was trying to rally British support for invasion in 2003, remember the passionate opposition of the then leader of the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy. Kennedy argued for giving the weapons inspectors time to finish their work, as their leader, Hans Blix, requested. He warned against the precedent that would be set by attacking a country to pre-empt a danger that had not been conclusively proven. Millions of Britons supported the Lib Dems' position, not least because they rightly suspected that Tony Blair was ready to follow George Bush anywhere.

Fifteen years on from the 9/11 attacks, the Chilcot Inquiry has thoroughly vindicated the Lib Dems' opposition to the invasion of Iraq and by implication condemned Labour and the Conservatives for supporting it. The position we took in 2003 was right and that of the other major parties was wrong. Imagine the how much safer the world might be and how much stronger the UK had the Lib Dem position carried the day. Might the US itself have been deterred long enough to establish that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the belief in which was the main justification offered for the war? Without the diversion of resources to Iraq, what might have been accomplished in Afghanistan? Had the US invaded without the UK, how much greater would our moral standing and global influence be today?

Next, a strong military. The Conservatives presided over major cuts to defence spending, cutting total military personnel from almost 200,000 to barely 160,000. There is likely to be another funding crisis by the end of this Parliament due to a number of large-ticket items which are coming up for replacement and renewal, and due to lack of long term thinking the UK is still inadequate when it comes to our cyber defenses. Lib Dems, on the contrary, have pushed for a longer-term plan for our armed forces which assesses which capabilities are needed to maintain a 21st Century forces, and invests in the welfare and development of our troops.

And then, of course, there is Brexit. David Cameron called the referendum and many top Tories, including Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, led the campaign to abandon Europe. Labour's Jeremy Corbyn adopted a position whose ambiguity and weakness materially contributed to millions of Labour voters crossing the box to leave the European Union. Thanks to these feckless leaders, the UK is now moving towards a deliberate diminution of prestige, influence and structural integrity unprecedented by any country in modern history.

Brexit means losing our leading role in a community of 500million and undercutting the non-military security achievements we've accomplished in concert with our neighbours. In the EU, for example, the UK has led efforts to increase Europe's energy independence so it can't be blackmailed by Russia and to maintain economic sanctions against Moscow for occupying huge swathes of Ukraine. Brexit destroys the UK's role as a bridge between the US and Europe, undermining the special relationship. Meanwhile, it pushes the overwhelmingly Europhile Scots towards independence and threatens the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Against all these self-inflicted wounds, the Liberal Democrats have stood alone as the only party whose every elected official, candidate and member has supported the UK playing an ever more influential role in the EU and through the EU, in the world.

As ever, here at home we Liberal Democrats continue to strive to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. But we also understand that the world today is full of dangers. This is why we hold positions that add up to keeping our powder dry: a strong military, picking our battles, safety in numbers, and a united United Kingdom.

Many voters - especially Conservatives - undoubtedly agree that protecting the United Kingdom is the most fundamental duty of any Government. The only party today whose actions live up to this duty is the Liberal Democrats.

Tom Brake is the Lib Dem MP for Carshalton