Margaret Thatcher was a great defender of Western ideas and values, so it is entirely appropriate that the Centre for Policy Studies should have named its major conference on security and the future of the West after her. It is also appropriate and welcome that the government’s senior representative at the June 27 conference, the defence secretary, should invoke her memory and words when declaring that Brexit Britain will remain a “proud defender of the West and its values and institutions”.

There is every reason to believe Michael Fallon when he asserts that under a Conservative government Britain will continue to support those values. But his claim to be a proud defender of Western institutions must be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, Brexit means by definition that the UK will be leaving one of the most important of those institutions, and thereby undermining it.

His words must also be placed in the political context in which this country now finds itself, thanks to Brexit: ahead in the opinion polls is a Labour leader who is proudly critical of many of the very values and institutions that Fallon associates with the West. Whether in government his party would actively seek to undermine them is open to doubt. But the fact is that Brexit Britain could be within months of having Jeremy Corbyn as its prime minister.

Furthermore, Fallon boasts proudly that Britain’s defence budget will rise by £1 billion this year to £36 billion, which will be 0.5% ahead of inflation, and a further £1 billion next year.

We now know that this means his government is thereby committed to spending 50% as much each year on retaining the 10 votes of the Democratic Unionist Party in its “confidence and supply” deal as it is on strengthening Britain’s defence contribution. (The DUP deal is for an extra £1 billion over the next two years.)

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Fallon defended the deal as being “not a bung” but rather a necessary investment in Northern Ireland’s prosperity. Perhaps it is, though the scale of that investment does put his own defence budget into a new perspective.

Fallon also, correctly, outlines the commitment of British forces in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, as well as their involvement in NATO’s deployment in Estonia.

What was missing from his Telegraph article, however, was any mention of the Royal Navy’s involvement in the EU’s Operation Sophia, the coordinated naval effort, under Italian command, in the Mediterranean to hunt for people smugglers while also rescuing migrants. The survey vessel HMS Echo is currently taking part in that operation.

Will Britain continue to support its European partners in this sort of combined operation after Brexit, or will it pull out of EU defence cooperation and limit itself to NATO? The latter course, far from marking a “stepping up” of Britain’s engagement, would dilute our commitment to common defence.

The defence secretary and his colleagues could benefit from drawing inspiration from the person for whom the CPS named its annual conference. In Margaret Thatcher’s famous 1988 speech to the College of Europe in Bruges, the Iron Lady said:

“Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.”


“We should develop the WEU [Western European Union], not as an alternative to NATO, but as a means of strengthening Europe’s contribution to the common defence of the West.

“Above all, at a time of change and uncertainty… we must preserve Europe’s unity and resolve so that whatever may happen, our defence is sure.”

Now, there was a true defender of the West’s values and institutions.


by Bill Emmott | 27.06.2017

Edited by Alan Wheatley

From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.

Sign up to the Newsletter

Share this

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Stay in touch Get our Newsletter


Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3GA


The Wake up Foundation is a registered charity no. 1152894

Donate now

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.

Created with NationBuilder

X Close

Join Wake Up Europe!

Wake Up Europe is a campaign brought to you by the Wake Up Foundation. It was sparked by the themes explored in The Great European Disaster Movie by Annalisa Piras and Bill Emmott.

We believe in the values that inspired the European project but that this project isn't working. Europe is sleep-walking towards disaster. We must wake up Europe so that we can save Europe from itself.

This job is too important to be left to the elites, the media, the political parties alone: ordinary people must be encouraged to discuss what Europe they want to see.

Or support us another way

Donate Host an event