Minister for the Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan gave a keynote speech at First Sea Lord’s Sea Power Conference at Lancaster House in London.

The Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP

First Sea Lord, Council for Geostrategy – thank you for bringing us all together once again, here at Lancaster House, our small residence that the Foreign Office likes to use to welcome our international friends and allies. I am delighted to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts in my capacity as Minister for the Indo-Pacific, and as a well known and often teased strong advocate of our Royal Navy. I mean, if there is an opportunity to go to sea, perhaps that will be the solution to many people’s challenges. I am always happy to take up that challenge.

But first, I would like to thank you and all those who serve in the Royal Navy – above and below the surface – for all that you do to keep our citizens and UK interests secure every single day.  

All too often, the Royal Navy’s continuous deployments go unnoticed, unknown to most and therefore unsung – though we in this room certainly understand the reasons why that must often be so. 

It has been interesting as a politician, as someone with a constituency, to watch those who never knew, or asked, what your sailors do, sit up and watch in amazement as young men and women aboard HMS Diamond shared the dramatic images of their elimination of drones attacking civilian shipping in the Red Sea. 

In awe, and honestly with pride, the Royal Navy and her exploits are being talked about in the pub (I can guarantee that one) and on dog walks by middle-aged ladies (because I went on one just the other day), as young and old are reminded of the threats to our assumed way of life.

Nor has the tireless work of our Royal Navy gone unnoticed by our adversaries, or those whom they seek to crush – as the challenges proliferate, we see your men and women step up across vast areas of ocean and an increasing breadth of activity.

  • Most critically of course, our submariners are deployed 24/7, 365 days a year, on our continuous at sea deterrent – silently patrolling global waters, the effective deterrent our adversaries know is there, somewhere, always ready to defend.

  • Protecting the freedom of navigation on which we all depend, wherever it is threatened is at the core of the Royal Navy’s work – and HMS Diamond has been demonstrating that at the centre of the UK’s critical role in the US-led international coalition to uphold freedom of navigation in the busy shipping lanes of Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden…

  • Sharing analysis from the UK Hydrographic Office has allowed US planners to establish the temporary pier needed to deliver aid to Gaza – with RFA Cardigan Bay playing a vital part…

  • And our sailors aboard HMS Tamar and HMS Spey in particular are working with countries in the Indo-Pacific, to build and protect sustainable blue economies that are so critical – supported by the UK’s £500m Blue Planet Fund…

  • As well as supporting small island states respond to shocks – like the crew of HMS Spey volunteering their free time to work alongside Tonga’s National Visually Impaired Association, in the wake of a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami… and I can tell you they have got friends for life on that island. It was really touching to discover the affection with which the work they have just done made a difference.

These are just a few examples of the recent work you have been leading. So I know you all agree that it was great to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement on 2.5% of GDP for defence spending, and a first picture from the defence Secretary yesterday on what this might look like for the Royal Navy. 

As the Foreign Secretary said last week, this is a world more dangerous, more volatile, more confrontational, than most of us have ever known.  We need to face up to that fact and act accordingly.  Not in a year or two.  Not in a few months.  But now. 

What is going to be vital is that the new integrated procurement model which we have set out, must turn government’s relationship with industry into a true strategic partnership – the 2.5% commitment will allow long term planning on shipbuilding, for instance, which will be vital to our ability to get the next generation of ships and submarines into service as quickly as possible. Those platforms will carry the innovative inventions which give us that critical military advantage.  So we must now make industry the sixth domain of our defences.

Whilst government, or rather the taxpayer – those ladies keep telling me that when I do the dog walking – it’s their money not ours. They are funding the Royal Navy, it is our defence and security industries which deliver the infrastructure, skilled workforce and platforms, weapons and kit for that your sailors need to deploy.

This First Sea Lord’s Conference takes place as our world becomes increasingly dangerous, unstable and unpredictable.  We must not divorce foreign and economic policy from domestic politics.  All over the western world, we see the rise of political movements that want us to pull up the drawbridge, claiming that we will be better off if we focus purely on domestic concerns. But this is the wrong answer. Because what happens abroad matters directly to our citizens. 

Our approach must not be to ignore the rise of these movements. It must be to deal with what has caused them to grow, so we can engage with the world and therefore safeguard our national interests.  And so it is more important than ever that our understanding of the strategic importance of the maritime – from the margins of the conversation into the heart of foreign policy – is centre stage.

The impacts of

  • Instability … in the Middle East;
  • Aggression… in the Black Sea;
  • Military and economic coercion in the South China Sea;

and the double-edged sword of emerging technologies are rippling out across the globe.

Households everywhere are feeling the pressure of all this on their budgets.  Fuel, food and fertiliser price spikes courtesy of Putin’s illegal war have shaken the economies of all, but the poorest have suffered most. 

Governments have had to underwrite these cost of living hikes where they can.

So after a long period of – perhaps naive – optimism, people now  understand once again why defence needs to be prioritised, and that the Royal Navy has a central role to play. 

Credible deterrence across these many unstable theatres requires our Royal Navy, alongside our allies and friends, to be fitter than ever  – to sustain free and open navigation routes, protecting undersea energy and cables, and assisting many countries in safeguarding the sovereignty of  their EEZs.

We must work with our US allies to take some of the strain in support of their leadership to assure the security of so many, from NATO on their east to Indo-Pacific friends on their west.

As I travel across the Indo-Pacific, all my conversations with  counterparts have the challenge of maritime security and protection on the agenda.

For the UK, our work across the Indo-Pacific continues to be a priority – as we set out in our integrated review refresh last year – the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific are indivisible.

Together, we are standing up for our shared security, freedom, and prosperity – and there is nothing selfless about wanting to focus on the two thirds of global maritime trade which passes through Indo-Pacific waters.

We are leaning into our role as Dialogue Partners in ASEAN and IORA, as well the Pacific Island Forum.   Our bilateral maritime dialogues with Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, and Vietnam are going from strength to strength, with Maritime Domain Awareness and then work on how to manage policing these waters once the malign activity is known at the heart of what we are doing– but sadly we know there is great deal more to do.

As the Defence Secretary highlighted, our second Naval Littoral Response Group is hard at work keeping the Indian Ocean safe and open.

The challenge we have set ourselves with the USA to help our Australian counterparts develop a nuclear-powered submarines fleet is going to require an enormous commitment from our British industries – it is they who are building new relationships with Australian companies, universities and state governments, to prepare for the SSN-AUKUS fleet. 

And we must never forget why this was agreed – it is because nuclear-powered submarines can travel greater distances, be undetected for longer, and therefore increase the credible deterrence to those who would wish to disrupt or deny the free flows of trade critical to Australia and all our economic security.

The hard work of getting SSN-AUKUS underway had been kicked off with £4bn of contracts to BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, and Babcock for the first elements of the UK’s SSN-AUKUS submarines. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg – not in financial terms, but in the uplift in infrastructure and skills which will be needed to deliver it on time. This truly will need to be a national endeavour across all three nations for us to meet the challenge we have set ourselves. 

At its peak AUKUS – Pillar 1 –  is expected to support more than 21,000 jobs in the UK and will need Australia to grow a skilled workforce which presently does not exist.  So its great to see the Royal Navy welcoming Australian personnel as they begin their specialised training.

Pillar 2 activity is also getting into its stride – we have run a first series of successful AI and autonomous undersea capability trials with our AUKUS family. Later this year we will conduct trilateral maritime autonomy exercises.   We are also now considering other countries that might contribute to AUKUS Pillar 2 projects, with Japan in the first instance.

The AUKUS Industry Forum, Defence Investor Network, and electronic warfare Innovation Challenge, are all now up and running to help improve and strengthen engagement and real understanding between government and industry.  I will keep saying it – it is industry that builds the tools our sailors must have to deliver the effect we need.

We must get better at demonstrating that government understands that, if we are to go faster to get ahead of the threats we see growing around us.

As part of that effort, from next year, the UK, US, and Japan will hold regular trilateral military exercises – this will build on the continuous deployment of HMS Spey and HMS Tamar in the Indo-Pacific, and is part of the commitment we have made with the USA in the Atlantic Declaration and Japan in the Hiroshima Accord.

Next year will also bring CSG25 (maybe I can hitch a lift on that first, maybe that’s a solution). Our aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales will be deployed to the region at the head of a Carrier Strike Group, including a port visit in Japan. And I can tell you there is a long lists of states requesting where else they would like you to visit. Some of the smaller island states may be tricky to park, but we will have to work on that one.

This work is immensely important in and of itself – but it is increasingly important in light of the increasing number of incidents involving unsafe conduct against vessels in the South China Sea over recent months.

That includes actions by Chinese vessels against the Philippines coastguard which have endangered lives, caused damage to civilian vessels, and made headlines around the world – as tensions mount over the Second Thomas Shoal.

We expect all states to uphold UNCLOS – it has a vital role in upholding peace, prosperity, and security, by making sure we all play by a set of rules designed and agreed to guarantee all our futures.

So we will support our partners to shine a light on these actions that heighten tension, risk escalation, and threaten regional peace and stability.

Indeed, from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, the Royal Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness Programme sets the global gold-standard when it comes to building the trust, partnerships, and capabilities we need to plan-ahead and respond to everything from illegal fishing to state threats.

We hope to expand this shared security expertise further, because we all need to look beyond what seems most alarming in a headline – to scan the horizon for what should really be keeping us up at night, so we can get the right pieces into place, across multiple theatres.

And, while it may seem trite to say that ‘together, we are stronger’ – from NATO to the MDA Five Eyes Partnership Forum, we should recognise that even when trust has been strained, and our resolve tested, we hold firm.

As we continue to work on inter-agency cooperation, on integrated defence and security, and indeed counter-terrorism – let us be clear about what is at stake, right now.

For us Brits, our identity as a maritime nation is a deep and enduring part of our view of ourselves.

Around the globe, others are looking to us to make good on the promise of that legacy for our shared future – by defending the values we hold dear, not just for ourselves but for all whose who long to feel the benefits of freedom and prosperity in their lives as well.

Indeed, they are looking to all of us – as determined adversaries and ruthless opportunists seek to bludgeon the brave into submission – to support them as they are brave enough to stand up for the future they want to shape for their citizens. So we need to ensure that our Navy and armed forces have what they need to do so.

For all of us right now, we face a defining litmus test in Ukraine.

As we strive to sustain our unwavering support and galvanise others to their cause – it is important that we recognise that it is at sea where the allied contribution is felt most keenly, combined with the Ukrainians’ indomitable spirit.

The UK is providing 60 small boats, alongside our mighty Storm Shadows, and uncrewed sea systems, with some £2 billion earmarked to become Ukraine’s largest supplier of drones.

Alongside Norway, we are proud to be leading a new Maritime Capability Coalition. Together, we are providing mine detection drones, raiding craft, Sea King helicopters – helping Ukraine build its navy, develop a marine corps, and defend its sovereign waters.

And we know it is making a difference.

Ukraine has struck the Kremlin’s Naval HQ in Sevastopol, and sunk or disabled around a third of the Russian Black Sea Fleet – including the notorious Moskva, forcing the rest into hiding. But as you said, probably only for now.

In the first months of 2024, agricultural exports reached the highest level since the war began – getting grain from Ukraine to those who need it most, has been a key British focus, just as we work to disrupt Russia’s shadow fleet, and increase the cost of Putin’s war machine with the largest ever package of sanctions.

In short, the Ukrainians have the will, they have the skills, and they have proved their effectiveness – if we back them. The UK will commit at least £3 billion a year for military support to Ukraine – building on more than £7bn to date. We welcome the recent release of funding from the US, as well as the EU.  But it is up to all of us to make this a priority for as long as it takes for the Ukrainians to prevail.

The reality is that we MUST get on a war footing in order to safeguard peace once again – just as twelve founding NATO nations did 75 years ago, when they gathered in Washington D.C, after conflict had engulfed the globe for the second time in a generation.

We can be proud to be sending some 20,000 UK personnel to the enormous Exercise Steadfast Defender – with our carrier strike group out in full force.

And if all NATO countries were to commit at least 2.5% of their GDP to defence when we all meet in Washington this summer – as we in UK are now committed to – then our collective budget would increase by more than £140 billion.

But it’s not just a commitment for meeting a future figure, it’s about upping the pace on investing now in our defence industrial partners.  Then we really will be changing gear, enabling our defence industries, their innovation and people, to invent, build, weld, innovate to give us the hardware and the software our armed forces need in order to protect more than a billion people across the NATO family and global security – from malign actors who have been investing at an incredible rate, and for too long, we have just been watching

Ladies and gentlemen – It’s not all about NATO, it’s not all about maritime capability, and there’s only so far money goes.

There is more we can and must do to build more partnerships and achieve greater coordination. As I said last year, gunning for interoperability and interchangeability is a no-brainer.

There is more we can and must do to send the clear, unequivocal, united signal to our adversaries that we will stand up for our values and our freedom – that they will not grind us down, nor will they wear us out, nor divide us.

So we must make good on our word  – it will be mission critical to deterrence which is effective in keeping the peace because it is credible, and those who would wish us harm need to know that.

Be it in Ukraine or anywhere else, if we allow our word to be shot down by tyrants and chancers – we send our every adversary the signal that it is open season on all that we hold dear.

And in so doing, we would be gambling every gain hard-won – not only of the rules to which we have all signed up – but of the tacit good faith treaties on which we rely to hold the fragile peace.

We must do all we can to stack the odds in our favour. The future is not guaranteed. So it is up to all of us to write the next chapter together. Governments can and must provide the money and the leadership, but only industry can give us the tools to enable our brave military personnel to deliver that credible deterrence, denial capability or front-line defence should it be necessary.  That safe and secure, peaceful and prosperous world we wish for our children doesn’t come free.

Thank you.

Published 15 May 2024