UK, France agree defence unity

BRITAIN and France vowed to work hand-in-glove last night as their leaders ushered in an unprecedented era of defence cooperation.

They have agreed to create a joint force and share nuclear test facilities.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed in London two treaties to allow both nations to remain global players while cutting defence budgets following the financial crisis.

The historic rivals, who already work alongside each other in NATO operations but fell out over the 2003 Iraq invasion, insisted the pact would not deprive their militaries of the ability to act independently.

“Today we open a new chapter in a long history of cooperation on defence and security between Britain and France,” Mr Cameron told a joint press conference following the signing ceremony.

Mr Sarkozy, speaking through a translator, said the deal was “historic” and “unprecedented”.

“France and Britain’s clocks strike at the same hour at the same time,” he said. “We intend to work hand in glove.”

The deal includes a joint rapid reaction force of up to 5000 troops deployable from next year; plans to share nuclear testing equipment by 2015; and the use of aircraft carriers from about 2020.

The pact puts an end to centuries of rivalry from the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066 through to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Mr Cameron said the two countries were “natural partners” but added: “Britain and France are and will always remain sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently”.

The first treaty covers a wide agreement on defence, from the creation of a new combined joint expeditionary force to sharing the use of aircraft carriers, the maintenance of transport planes and some joint procurement.

The new force will begin training next year and would be deployed on an ad hoc basis under a single commander, likely speaking English.

The two countries will also share the use of their aircraft carriers from 2020. With each country operating only one carrier, they will be able to use the other nation’s vessel when theirs is under maintenance.

The second treaty will cover plans to share technology in the testing of nuclear weapons, although officials stressed this would not see the two countries share nuclear secrets, nor the codes to their nuclear submarines.

Under the nuclear deal, Paris and London will test the safety of their nuclear arsenals in a joint facility in Valduc, France, which will work with a French-British research site in Aldermaston.

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