WASHINGTON — The United Kingdom's top defense official says the UK vote to leave the European Union will not diminish the country's global role, and in fact may open up opportunities for innovation on defense technologies.

Michael Fallon, UK defense minister, told an audience here Thursday that the so-called "Brexit" does not mean the UK is removing itself from the world stage.

"I am very much aware that that vote has raised some questions about the implications for Britain's role in the world, and I am here to reassure you that we have a new prime minister, technically a new government, but one that wants Britain to go on playing a global role," Fallon said at an event hosted by the Cohen Group. "A government that is determined to make as success of Brexit, but a government that will continue to put security front and center of its efforts.

"Let me reassure you that Britain is not stepping back. On the contrary, we are stepping up – standing up for our values, strengthening NATO, backing our independent nuclear deterrent and seeking a stronger alliance than ever with you in the United States," he added, saying the UK will always support the "vital sinews of peace" that tie alliances to both NATO and the US.

In a June 23 referendum, UK voters decided to abandon the European Union. The move, which caught officials around the globe by surprise, led to the collapse of the government led by Prime Minister David Cameron. It was announced last week that Fallon would stay on as defense minister under the new government of Theresa May.

At the Farnborough Air Show, held outside London last week, industry put on a brave face about the impact of Brexit, despite the number of unknown issues still to be sorted. On Thursday, Fallon continued that push, noting that defense spending should remain relatively fenced off from Brexit fallout.

In fact, Fallon argued, there may be long-term benefit for the defense sector from the Brexit decision, in particular with innovation in defense technology.

"If we're leaving the European Union, we will therefore be leaving the European Defense Agency, and there may be opportunities there as well," the minister said. "We will no longer be bound, for example, on European rules for procurement."

Fallon argued that the EU has not "matched the level of innovation" seen in the US or elsewhere in the world over the last 20 to 40 years, and indicated that is in part because of regulations and rules put in place by Brussels.

"So we see Brexit as an opportunity to look against these things where Europe has been rather sclerotic about the encouragement it's offered and we see huge opportunities here for innovation and further matching the kind of success you've had over here," he said.

He added that the UK and US hope to begin collaborating more on tech development, pointing to an announcement last week that the countries will work to "autonomous robotic technologies, driverless technology, that can ferry equipment over that last, most dangerous mile up to the front line."

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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