Last week it was a pleasure to be invited onto a community panel at Bethesda Methodist Church in Great Norwood Street to debate issues of standards in public life. With searching questions from the audience, it offered exactly the kind of vigorous and free debate that Cheltenham is known for and makes our town such an excellent place to live.
Let us never take it for granted. For others in the world, such basic freedoms are a distant hope. And so as a UK Defence minister, I was pleased that last week we were able to authorise the transfer of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine – the latest step in supporting the right of Ukrainians to recover their freedom to live in peace and security.
We are the second biggest provider of support in the world. To date we have transferred over 200 armoured vehicles, 10,000 anti-tank weapons, Sea King search and rescue helicopters, plastic explosives, and three million rounds of small arms ammunition.
At the request of Ukraine, we have also supplied long-range precision artillery capabilities, comprising multiple launch rocket systems, as well as urgent non-lethal assistance such as winter clothing, shelters, generators, fuel trucks and ambulances.
The squadron of Challenger 2 tanks will be provided alongside armoured recovery and repair vehicles, AS90 guns, and dozens more uncrewed aerial systems worth £20 million to support Ukrainian artillery.
We do all this because we believe that might isn’t always right, and the international rule of law matters. The Ukrainian people continue to endure illegal, indiscriminate bombardment, war crimes, and overwhelming military aggression. And we in the UK well understand that such aggression, if not defeated in Ukraine, will likely be visited on others.
It is a source of quiet pride to regularly bump into Cheltenham residents in the MOD main building in Whitehall, who are playing a crucial role in galvanising our national effort. And back home in Cheltenham, it is an equal pleasure to attend the community events that stand as a symbol of the very freedoms we’re standing up for.