May to acknowledge ‘debt of gratitude’ to military in farewell defence speech

Theresa May will extend the commitment of British forces in support of counter-terrorism operations in Mali, as she hails the military as the “protectors of our democracy”.

Three Chinook transport helicopters and their crews have been based in the African country since July last year in support of French operations against extremists.

The Prime Minister will announce a six-month extension to the operation as she delivers her final military speech before leaving office later this month.

Salisbury incident
Salisbury incident

She will visit the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) and Nato’s maritime headquarters in Northwood, north-west London, to thank the military for their efforts under her premiership.

Mrs May is expected to say: “There is no greater responsibility as Prime Minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people.

“And doing so is not something any Prime Minister can achieve without you – the brave men and women of our armed forces.

“You are not just a part of British life – you are the guarantors of British life. The foundation of our freedom. The protectors of our democracy. And for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude.”

She will stress the continued importance of Nato in dealing with the international threats facing the UK.

US President Donald Trump’s commitment to the alliance has been questioned and he has repeatedly challenged the European members to spend more on their own defence.

Theresa May visit to Middle East
Theresa May visit to Middle East

But Mrs May insisted Nato was every bit as relevant now as when it was set up.

“While the threats we face may vary and evolve, the founding principles of Nato – that we are mightier together than alone and that an attack on one is an attack on all – remain every bit as important and relevant today as they were in 1945,” she will say.

“Terrorists, people traffickers, international criminals and state and non-state aggressors do not respect national boundaries, and nor should our response to the threats they pose.”

Mrs May’s speech is expected to highlight her visit to Iraq in 2017, where she met troops involved in training local forces.

And she will also praise the armed forces for their “round the clock” role in decontaminating Salisbury after the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March 2018.