15:00 GMT +315 December 2019
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    US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, shakes hands with British Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon

    In the Name of Defense: UK-US Relations 'Most Important Ever' Amid Brexit Affair

    © AP Photo / Virginia Mayo
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    British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon welcomed his US counterpart General James Mattis in London for the first time, by calling the UK-US defense relationship "more important than ever," especially "as we leave the EU." It comes days after EU officials accused the UK of threatening to pull back on security co-operation.

    For Michael Fallon, it was an all important first public meeting with the man nicknamed the "warrior monk" — due to his bachelor life and lifelong devotion to the study of war — since his appointment as US Secretary of Defense.

    Mr. Fallon chose a two-pronged approach, by emphasizing that the US is a critical security partner, while simultaneously downplaying the UK's reliance on the EU and NATO allies on defense.

    "Our defense relationship with the US is unprecedented in its depth and scope. As we leave the EU, our bilateral relationships matter more than ever, so we'll be enhancing our cooperation and investing more in our joint F-35 fast jet program."

    Indeed, Mr. Fallon chose to echo a key critique of NATO made several times over by US President Trump — that other NATO members need to contribute closer to the 2% of GDP target towards the organization.

    For his part General Mattis sought to reassure the UK, that the US does not see Britain's position as a global player as being diminished in the wake of Brexit.

    "Britain's global leadership is needed now more than at any time in history" General Mattis said.

    "We see each other on an equal footing."

    The focus on UK-US security ties comes just days of consternation in Europe over what was perceived as being a threat by Prime Minister Theresa May, that if the UK is not given a good Brexit deal, the UK government could choose to draw back from intelligence and security cooperation with partners in Europe.

    The prospect was rejected by many EU officials including the EU Parliament's chief negotiator on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt

    Mr. Fallon deflected questions on the controversy, instead choosing to focus on the UK's importance as a strategic military partner for both the US and EU.

    "The [UK] defense budget is the fifth biggest in the world," Secretary Fallon told reporters.

    "It's £35bn, [US$44bn] a year. Next week, the beginning of the financial year, it goes up to £36bn [US$45], it'll be £40bn [US$50] by the end of this parliament, it's going up every year."

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    Tags:
    military alliance, defense spending, Brexit, military cooperation, partnership, defense, security, NATO, Jim Mattis, Michael Fallon, United States, United Kingdom, London
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