The Conservative leadership candidate’s speech to the Foreign Press Association on terrorism and security
The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place. The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. However the decision by the UK government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists. Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way. I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause. I had previously supported every war embarked upon by a British government of whatever party throughout my parliamentary career.
This was not such a case. The reasons given to parliament for joining the invasion were bogus. Bush’s real purpose of installing quite quickly a pro-western democracy in Baghdad, with the support of a grateful liberated population, has proved to be a sad illusion. The dangers of the invasion providing recruits and impetus to terrorist extremists were clear before the war…
America is a great friend of Britain and our closest ally. The ties that bind us together are not those found in treaties. They are the closest possible ties of a shared history and of shared values.
For over 50 years we have been united in a transatlantic partnership. That partnership helped to secure peace in Europe and bring an end to Soviet tyranny. It has been a powerful partnership founded on mutual respect and a deep friendship. We break those bonds of friendship at our peril.
I have spent my whole political life not just believing in the Atlantic alliance but working to strengthen it. For many of us in the Conservative party - I hope the majority - being Atlanticist is not an afterthought but a fundamental part of our philosophy and our values.
But a true friend is a candid friend. US presidents are not always right. Margaret Thatcher famously told off Ronald Reagan for invading a Commonwealth country without consulting her. Yet America has no greater friend than Margaret Thatcher. She recognised that the first duty of the British prime minister is the defence of British interests.
No Conservative would want to see the British relationship with the United States fracture. It is because I believe in it so strongly that I have been robust in my criticism on occasions. The transatlantic partnership has to be just that, a partnership. After September 11 2001 our government was quite right to pledge its support for President Bush’s campaign against global terrorism, it would have been failing in its duty if it had not done so.
Iraq was a diversion from the core task of the pursuit and destruction of al-Qaida. Indeed, the failure to prepare properly for the aftermath of invasion has led to a horrifying expansion of terrorist activity in Iraq. We must not make such a mistake again.