James Sunderland urges Government to invest in British defence industry R&D to design for export

James Sunderland urges the Government to invest in the British defence industry and plan ahead by designing for export with the most cost-effective kit that money can buy. He says: “we must build British, buy British and sell British to put us back on the map.”

We must build British, buy British and sell British to put us back on the map.

James Sunderland MP


James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is an honour to be called to speak in this important debate, Sir Charles. Having served in uniform for many years, I know a bit about defence procurement. I am also privileged to have used some of the best British-made equipment in the world.

In 2018-19, the Ministry of Defence spent £19.2 billion with UK industry and commerce, deliberately supporting 119,000 jobs. It is jobs that we are talking about today. In 2020, our commitment under the spending review is to spend an extra £16 billion, on top of the extra £8 billion that was promised in last year’s manifesto. That is exactly what the Ministry of Defence and our defence industry have been waiting for. Keeping people safe is the primary role of Government, but it is also about providing the commitment, the certainty and the spending guarantees that allow our nascent defence industry to plan ahead, at what is now well over 2% of GDP.

In the time I have today, I want to emphasise three key things. First, we have fantastic equipment in the UK. I am confident that, in the main, our forces have what they need. Secondly, I am proud to serve under a Conservative Government that get defence. Thirdly, we must spend responsibly and flexibly to secure what we need and to keep our British defence industry at the forefront of R&D, and to be able to produce competitive exports.

What do we have to be proud of right now? Lightning II, the F-35B aircraft, is an advanced, fifth generation aircraft, but it is American. Typhoon is another fantastic aircraft, and almost British. The Dreadnought to come is British, and is being built in Barrow. Our Astute boats are again British and being built in Barrow. The QE2 carriers—two of them—are British. Ajax is integrated in the UK, although it is not a UK platform. Type 26 frigates are British, Type 31 frigates are British, and the fleet solid support ships are British.

That is all good so far, but there is a note of caution. The message for post-Brexit UK is that we need to export our way out of trouble. To do that, we must showcase what we make and build. When we have a UK-based product or project with export potential we must back it, even if it involves some security compromise. We must also lower production costs to make it fit for the export market. We must develop a longer-term strategy to design and build UK equipment. That will avoid often substandard commercial off-the-shelf solutions. The UK must also design with export in mind. Expensive platforms are all very well, but we need to be able to sell them to those who do not have a huge amount of money in comparison, particularly to our emerging allies. As for legacy EU competition rules, the simple answer is no.

It is time now for liberal freedom of choice in public money to be over. For example, I do not want to see Hyundai police cars in Thames valley. The point extends across the whole of government. Let us invest in our British defence industry; let us relinquish these ridiculous EU competition rules; let us plan ahead, design for export and sell ourselves out of our financial woes with the most cost-effective kit that money can buy. Above all, we must build British, buy British and sell British to put us back on the map.