The Middle East may be awash with violence while fears of “total war” between Russia and Ukraine persist, but Ukip’s top military man appears to be gearing up to fight older battles.
Defence spokesman Mike Hookem MEP seems more concerned that Argentina might take advantage of Britain’s defence cuts to try something sneaky in the South Atlantic or that Spain could be secretly plotting to retake Gibraltar, 302 years after it was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht.
In an interview with The Independent, ahead of the unveiling of the party’s manifesto, the former corporal in the Army Reserve warned Spain to “back off” and accused France of arming Argentina as it “rattles the sabre” over the Falkland Islands.
Laying out his party’s priorities for Britain’s armed forces, he said Ukip would restrict the military to a “defence of the realm” role, along with protecting British business interests abroad and “defending our protectorates across the globe”.
Mr Hookem joined Ukip in 2009 after seeing “Eastern Europeans take jobs” from British workers on building sites. He admits he was “shocked” when, as the third name on the ballot, he was elected MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire in last year’s European elections.
The six-party election: key figures
The six-party election: key figures
2/12 Lynton Crosby (Con)
Chief election strategist
4/12 Lucy Powell (Lab)
Vice chair of general election campaign
5/12 Liberal Democrats
6/12 Paddy Ashdown (Lib Dem)
8/12 Suzanne Evans (Ukip)
10/12 Chris Luffingham (Green)
11/12 Scottish National Party
12/12 Angus Robertson (SNP)
General election director
His political inexperience is obvious – Britain relinquished its last protectorate in the 1970s – but that hasn’t stopped him calling for an increase in defence spending to 2010 levels. “What we’ve said before is that we’d be retaining back to the spending levels of 2010, but I think the golden age of the military was in the 1980s and 1990s. Even then we struggled to defend the Falklands,” he said.
Mr Hookem’s comments are the strongest sign yet that a rise in defence spending is being seriously considered by the party despite its commitment to a dramatic reduction in government spending overall. His suggestion that Ukip should be “retaining” 2010 levels of defence spending could mean the party committing up to £4.7bn extra in military spending, more than the additional £3bn it has promised the NHS.
However, despite the spending boost, Mr Hookem refused to be drawn on the party’s policy on Trident. He would only say that the “public don’t understand the importance of the nuclear deterrent” and that Ukip was looking at how it could “afford” to keep nuclear weapons.
One policy commitment Mr Hookem, a joiner before becoming an MEP, was keen to stress was Ukip’s commitment not to put “boots on the ground” in a “Muslim war” in Iraq and Syria. Though he did raise the possibility of putting soldiers on the streets if there was a Charlie Hebdo-style attack on British soil.
Speaking in his home city of Hull, he also stressed that the UK should stay away from the conflict in Ukraine and blamed the European Union for “pushing up” to Russia’s borders. “We are not a supporter of Putin, but it’s the expansion of the ever-growing federal state of Europe that’s pushing the border of Europe up to Russia and I think Putin is feeling threatened. We need to sit down and talk with this guy because he doesn’t take prisoners,” he said.
However, his most passionate comments were reserved for the need to defend Britain’s remaining colonial outposts, as he repeatedly raised fears of Argentinian aggression in the South Atlantic.
In an attack on Anglo-French military co-operation, he said: “We are absolutely against military sharing with France. Argentina is rattling the sabre over the Falkland Islands again and France is simply not going to help us defend them. These [European] countries are simply not going to defend our businesses and our islands on behalf of Great Britain, when you’ve got France supplying Argentina with weapons.”
In fact, France’s largest arms and defence customers are Russia and various Middle East regimes, while last year it delayed a fighter jet deal with Argentina after signing a defence agreement with Britain.
Nonetheless, Mr Hookem went on to call for Britain to “renegotiate” its relationship with Nato to ensure it would assist the UK in any future conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. “That’s something we are going to have to look at,” he said.
His fondness for a bygone age extended to two other areas of defence policy. He questioned whether women should serve in combat roles, saying he was “uncomfortable” with the idea as it made him “a little bit squeamish”.
And, perhaps predictably, he said it would be “nice” to bring back mandatory national service.Reuse content