LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that Britain will defend its allies from an increasing Russian threat even after Brexit, as she carried on her courting of European Union leaders.
“Russia’s continued aggression represents a growing threat to our friends here,” May told British troops in Estonia on Friday. “Our response must be clear and unequivocal. You are showing that we are equipped to respond to any threat.”
The prime minister was joined by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Estonia’s Juri Ratas as she visited British and French troops stationed in the country as part of NATO’s “Enhanced Forward Presence” there. The forces are designed to act as a tripwire – Russia couldn’t attack Estonia without also attacking the U.K. and France.
The U.K., May said, “is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.” Her words to the troops came ahead of a meeting of EU leaders in Tallinn, and a week after she offered a softer tone in her pitch for progress in the Brexit talks. Her stance contrasts with comments in March, when she appeared to tie continued security cooperation to a good trade deal.
May’s confrontational tone toward the EU changed after her electoral humiliation in June. She has now returned to a position first floated by British officials in November, when they saw Donald Trump’s election as an opportunity to win goodwill in Europe after the U.S. president signaled he’d be reluctant to commit forces to defend other nations.
As well as stationing troops on the EU’s border with Russia, May is offering other EU countries help with cyber security and counter-terrorism. The pledges in areas where the U.K. has world-leading capabilities serve as a reminder that it is in all sides’ interests to maintain good relations.