LONDON (AP) — Defense Secretary Michael Fallon says Britain will have to work harder to maintain its military and political influence on the global stage because of its decision to leave the European Union.
Fallon said Monday Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the EU will force it to intensify bilateral relationships and strengthen existing alliances to demonstrate it has no intention of stepping back from its long-established international role.
“We’ll do more in NATO to compensate, we’ll work harder at the key alliances within NATO, the United States but also France, and we have already signaled our intention to do more with Germany,” he told several U.S. reporters before a long-planned trip to Washington to deal with counter-terrorism strategy.
Speaking from his spacious Ministry of Defense office, featuring an oversize photograph of Winston Churchill and Defense Intelligence maps of Libya and South Sudan, Fallon said Britain “absolutely” plans to meet commitments made to NATO allies on defense spending.
He said freeing Britain from EU procurement rules may give Britain more flexibility to pick and choose the equipment it needs.
“We are still around, and we have to demonstrate that leadership all over again, so we have double down on our NATO commitments,” he said. “That’s why we’re putting a whole battalion in Estonia and an additional company of troops into Poland.”
Fallon said the UK recently decided to add 250 troops to Iraq for the same reason.
The defense secretary was the most senior minister to retain his position last week when new Prime Minister Theresa May installed her Cabinet. Fallon noted with approval that the Treasury chief Philip Hammond, a key figure in budget decisions, was a former Minister of Defense.
Fallon said he has set up a small team to study Brexit-related defense issues, including the future of EU missions Britain is participating in.
Chief among these are the Royal Navy-supported mission in the Central Mediterranean designed to rescue migrants at sea and disrupt people trafficking gangs and the EU’s anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. Britain is also heavily involved in EU missions in Bosnia.
“We go on being members of Europe until we leave, so we’re not going to pull the ships out,” Fallon said.
He said it was “too early” to know if Britain would still have a role in these EU operations when it leaves the 28-nation bloc.