DORSET’S global aerospace firm Cobham was praised by the defence secretary during a tour of its factory.

Gavin Williamson met a group of apprentices while visiting the company's Wimborne HQ.

Mr Williamson told the Daily Echo that Cobham showed the importance of defence to the economy.

“This is just a brilliant example and just demonstrates how important defence is, not just to those who work in this factory but also to industry right across the country," he said.

“When you're spending money on defence, whether it’s the RAF, the Royal Navy or the British army, you’re investing in jobs and technology and right across the country including here in Dorset.

“This is a business that just on this site alone has almost 1,000 people employed here who are dependent on the work that they do. That’s a real positive.”

He said the country needed to invest in the “people that make our country safer”.

“That’s why we’ve got an extra £1.8billion for defence investment. Last year we spent £36bn on defence and next year we will spend £39bn on defence,” he said.

He visited Cobham with local MP Michael Tomlinson, who chairs parliament’s all-party group for youth employment.

Mr Williamson said: “We’ve had an apprenticeship revolution over eight years. We have the apprenticeship levy that really helps support businesses to invest in apprenticeships.”

He said the levy was helping young people at Cobham acquire the skills that would give it “the ability to continue to sell not just to the Ministry of Defence but also to the United States Air Force and the ability to compete on the world stage”.

The defence secretary watched a 120ft helicopter refuelling hose being tested and attempted a mid-air refuelling himself through a simulator.

Mr Williamson said he was optimistic that Theresa May would get her European Union withdrawal agreement through parliament after receiving reassurances from other EU members. But he said Britain should not be afraid of a withdrawal without a deal.

He added: “As we leave the EU, this is our opportunity to raise our eyes to see the new horizon, the opportunities that are there.

“If you look at a company like Cobham, this is a business that’s not just trading in the UK, doesn’t just trade in the EU. This is a global business. So many of these jobs are on a global basis, so many of these jobs are not EU-related, they’re selling their products to the US and many other countries beyond that.”