Britain will always be a "tier one" military power, British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson told the Atlantic Council think tank Tuesday in Washington, contradicting recent comments by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
In June, the prime minister asked Williamson to justify Britain's role as a tier one military power at a Downing Street meeting, challenging Defense Ministry plans to modernize the armed forces just weeks before a NATO summit, according to the Financial Times.
Underlying her statement, the report said, was a realization that Britain can no longer economically compete with top global powers. The following day, when asked to respond to the report at a joint news conference with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, May criticized the report as inaccurate but declined requests to verbally commit to maintaining Britain's tier one military status, saying only that she wanted Britain to be a "leading defense nation."
Downing Street later said May had challenged Williamson's plans but rejected claims she was pushing to reduce the nation's military stature.
During his Atlantic Council speech, Williamson forcefully asserted Britain's role as "major global actor."
"We have always been a tier one military power, and we always will be a tier one military power," he said, before rejecting concerns that the pending Brexit would compromise Britain's global military standing.
"While Britain is leaving the EU, we are clear about our role and place in the world," he said. "Brexit is Britain's moment to look up, be more ambitious, and redefine our place in the world. In some ways, the EU has limited our vision, discouraged us from looking to the horizon. Now, we are being freed to reach further and aim higher. Please, never underestimate my nation. The U.K. remains a great power."
Williamson, 42, who joined May's cabinet in late 2017, made the comments ahead of Pentagon meetings with his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Asked about President Donald Trump's criticism of NATO, Williamson expressed his conviction that U.S. investments in the alliance prove this administration is "incredibly committed to NATO," and that Britain and the U.S. would remain "reliable partners for the long term."
Although there are no technical criteria that define tier one military power, Britain's defense ministers have suggested the term involves a range of military capabilities, from nuclear deterrents to naval, ground and air force branches that can deploy in any corner of the globe.
While addressing the Atlantic Council event, Williamson discussed a new concept of a fighter jet being developed in Britain, nicknamed the Tempest, which he hopes U.S. defense officials will consider for purchase.
Williamson unveiled a full-sized model of the jet at a British air show in July, which, according to Bloomberg, was part of a "bid to show that the nation plans to remain a leading military power after Brexit."
With Europe's largest military budget and a substantial aerospace research and development sector, Britain has historically attracted substantial investments from major U.S. defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
Britain's aerospace and defense sectors — both massive contributors to the British economy in terms of jobs, technology and exports — are among those negotiating agreements with the government's business and strategy department to brace for financial and trade repercussions upon leaving the European Union.
This story originated in VOA's Serbian service. Some information is from Reuters.