Tories up in arms at pooled defence

DAVID Cameron has insisted that British sovereignty has been strengthened by the historic defence accord with France.

This was despite Conservative unease that he had surrendered military independence.

The British Prime Minister hailed the deal as “the start of something new, not an end in itself”, after signing two treaties alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy in London.

Mr Sarkozy said the pooling of nuclear technologies and aircraft carrier capabilities showed “a level of trust and confidence between our two nations which is unequalled in history”.

But Tory sceptics challenged Mr Cameron’s description of the countries as “natural partners” and questioned if the 50-year deal was in Britain’s interests.

Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin said: “There is a long track record of duplicity on the French part. When it comes to dealing with allies, we should never be under any illusion. The French act in what they see as their strategic interests.”

Defence Secretary Liam Fox was summoned to the Commons by the Speaker to answer questions on the treaties. Some Tories picked up on Mr Sarkozy’s description of the “truly integrated aircraft carrier group” the allies intended to operate.

Tory MP Peter Tapsell said that, as someone married to a French woman, “I have some experience of the unpredictability of Anglo-French relations”.

If London and Paris were divided, he asked, who would put helicopters and aircraft on to whichever carrier was in use?

Under the deal, London and Paris will co-ordinate the servicing of their aircraft carriers so that one is always at sea. One of Britain’s new carriers will be modified to fly French jets.

A joint rapid reaction force of 10,000 will start training next year and both countries will share nuclear weapons facilities. Research will be done in Britain and testing in France.

The British and French military industries would work together on the next generation of unmanned drones, the successor to the Astute class of nuclear submarine and new missile systems.

Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy insisted that London and Paris would retain their ability to act as independent military powers. Both sidestepped questions as to whether Paris would send its Charles de Gaulle carrier to the South Atlantic in a re-run of the Falklands war. Mr Sarkozy said: “If you, my British friends, have to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying it’s none of our business?”

“This is a triumph of hope over experience,” said Gwyn Prins, of the London School of Economics. “I cannot see how they think this is going to end in anything other than tears.”

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