The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1997-2001 Parliament

Mr Major’s Commons Speech on the Rapid Reaction Force – 15 November 2000

The text of Mr Major’s Commons Speech on the Rapid Reaction Force in November 2000.


Mr Major: Is the Secretary of State [Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence] aware that on many strategic issues since the last election I have either supported the Government or remained silent, conscious of their mandate? I have always favoured European co-operation on defence, as did the last Government, but only and exclusively as the European arm of the NATO alliance. The present proposals are not the same as that; they are totally different and wholly mistaken. Can the Secretary of State not understand some of the dangers? Can he not understand that what is proposed has no military logic? It adds not one iota of additional capacity. It offers no secure chain of command and, in my judgment, it will undermine NATO. The danger is that it may weaken the United States’ traditional commitment to Europe. The Americans may well say to themselves, “Why should we ever contribute troops in future to a European regional conflict when Europe boasts an army of 60,000 men?”

Equally dangerously, the Secretary of State might reflect that, over time, what is proposed may even begin to erode our security arrangements with the United States which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary will know about, which have worked immeasurably to the advantage of the United Kingdom.

The fact is that this is a political proposal, and an unwise one. Those of us in the previous Government would not have made it. The Secretary of State and the Government know that. The right hon. Gentleman has tried to hide behind a grotesque distortion of our policy, which is not what I would have expected from him.

The proposal comes from the Prime Minister. Where is he? He should have been here. The Prime Minister has blundered into a misconceived political proposal that should never have been made. It is profoundly not in our national interest, and should be dropped without delay–even if to do so might embarrass the Prime Minister.