Britain must 'enhance lethality' amid growing cyber threat, says defence secretary

Alex Daniel
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Gavin Williamson Announced As New British Defence Secretary
The boundaries between peace and war are becoming 'blurred' according to the defence secretary (Source: Getty)

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson will this morning crank up his military rhetoric, saying Britain cannot be seen as a “paper tiger” and must be ready to take action against countries that “flout international law”.

The more aggressive tone, which comes ahead of the UK striking out on its own outside the European Union, will be marked by Williamson announcing the deployment of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific.

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The vessel will also carry two squadrons of British and US F-35 jets.

The cabinet minister is to argue Britain should redefine itself as a global power after Brexit, and consider how to “maximise our influence around the world in the months and years to come”.

“Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history. A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass,” Williamson will say in a speech at a London-based defence think tank, the Royal United Services Institute.

“To talk but fail to act risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger.”

The bold rhetoric comes despite the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticising the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for having a £14.8bn black hole in its decade long spending plan early this month.

PAC chair Meg Hillier slammed the department for “failing taxpayers”, urging it to “bring some much-needed clarity to its priorities and costs”.

Chancellor Philip Hammond granted the MoD £1bn extra spending money in the October budget, but the PAC said the department has otherwise made “little progress” in plugging the gap.

The defence secretary will also announce a package of new equipment in a bid to increase the forces’ fighting power, including what the MoD is calling “a substantial cyber package”.

“As the cyber threat grows, we are making a very significant additional investment on the £1.9bn we spend on cyber capabilities. That’s funding to improve offensive cyber, putting the command and control structures in place across-government. And, it will give us an extra money to protect our networks’ resilience from online attacks,” Williamson will say.

“Our adversaries are increasingly using cyber-attacks, subversion and information operations to challenge us and the rules-based international order.”

Read more: MoD must tackle £14.8bn black hole in finances now, say MPs

“Russia is resurgent rebuilding its military arsenal,” he will say, adding the boundaries between peace and war are becoming “blurred” - in particular with Russia and China.

“We have to be ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour. Ready to strengthen our resilience.”