Show of solidarity across the waves

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Last weekend I was in Gibraltar for talks on the economy and Brexit and to show solidarity and support as Gibraltarians celebrated their National Day.

Gibraltar was ceded to the British crown in 1713 under Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht and in 1967 a referendum of the people of Gibraltar saw 99.6 per cent voting to remain under British sovereignty.

This did nothing to settle the situation with the Spanish who then shut the border with Gibraltar.

For many years over 75 per cent of Gibraltar’s economy was reliant on the Ministry of Defence (MoD). When the MoD began to downsize in 1986, Gibraltarians started to diversify their economy. This has now led to only five per cent of its income reliant on the MoD and a per head capita of over £68,000.

Once again, Spain looks on with longing eyes at the success of The Rock after, Gibraltarians again voted in a referendum in 2002 to stay British by 99 per cent.

Spain’s behaviour towards Gibraltar remains disgraceful to this day, often with illegal maritime incursions and the harassing of British vessels in Gibraltar’s waters.

It is, therefore, vital we continue to have a show of strength of the Royal Navy in Gibraltar who regularly use this key strategic port to take on supplies as the gateway between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and to show the unwavering support of the British Government.

It was a real pleasure to be invited on board the Type 45 Destroyer HMS Diamond while I was visiting and indeed this past week saw the arrival of HMS Ocean as it passed through on its way across the Atlantic to help with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Britain’s naval power is going through a renaissance period. On Wednesday September 6 the Secretary of State for Defence made a momentous and historical statement when the Government announced its National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Over the next decade, the Government will use the increasing defence budget to spend billions on surface ships to increase the power, reach and size of the Royal Navy.

Crucially, the Government will be building a new fleet of Frigates for UK dockyards and for export.

The Type 23 Frigate, the workhorse of the Royal Navy for the last 20 years, is being replaced with eight Type 26 Frigates and five Type 31e Frigates. The ‘e’ stands for export.

The government has procured the Type23es to be built at a cost of £250 million a ship and the first of these will be launched in 2023 and by 2030 will be constructed to increase the size of the Navy, while at the same time bringing sustainability to the shipbuilding industry in this country by building the first warships for export since the 1960’s.

Last October the first steel was cut for HMS Dreadnought, the first of our new nuclear submarines that will replace Trident.

HMS Audacious, the fourth of our new Astute class submarines, was launched in the spring and the first steel has already been cut for HMS Glasgow; one of the new Type 26’s that will safeguard jobs on the Clyde until at least 2035.

We have five new offshore patrol vessels under construction and four new Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships joining the fleet in the next two years.

Many will have seen the launch of our new Aircraft Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth last month, the largest warship we have ever built or owned. Last week the second carrier was named HMS The Prince of Wales.

As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, it is clear to me that the Royal Navy will be the most advanced and envied Navy in the world within the next decade.

With our commitment to increasing personnel, renewing the fleet and safeguarding and expanding the shipbuilding industry in the UK for decades to come, the future of the Royal Navy is brighter now than it has been for decades.