Britain and France sign historic 50-year military agreement
(dailymail.co.uk) Britain and France have signed a new entente cordiale today agreeing to unprecedented military cooperation including the joint testing of nuclear warheads.
Nuclear secrets - which have been preserved for five decades - will be shared under the plans.
Britain will surrender testing of nuclear warheads which will be done at Valduc, near Dijon, from 2015. The Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston will instead focus on developing new technology.
The ground-breaking agreement will even see French generals taking command of the SAS as part of a rapid reaction force.
Straight shooter: David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pictured at Lancaster House in London today, have signed a military treaty which includes the testing of nuclear warheads
Senior defence officials claim the historic deal, dubbed the ‘Entente Frugale’, will save millions and boost the fighting power of both countries.
But critics claim that the pact has been forced on Britain by budget cuts and will leave the Armed Forces dependent on their historical rivals, who opposed conflicts in Iraq and the Falklands.
David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarzoky will sign two treaties designed to end years of mutual suspicion and bind the Armed Forces of both nations together for 50 years.
The historic deal will see Britain and France share aircraft carriers from 2020, so that at least one is at sea at all times, leaving Britain dependent on French support to defend the Falkland Islands.
The countries will launch a brigade-sized Combined Joint Expeditionary Force - about 6,000 troops – including the SAS, SBS, Marines and Paras, to deploy on civil and military operations together and share more intelligence, air-to-air refuelling and cyber-warfare capabilities.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox, pictured today at Downing Street, has denied the Anglo-French deal will compromise British sovereignty
Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted the move makes 'perfect sense' and stressed: 'This is not a question of our military assets coming under the control of any other power than the United Kingdom.'
He claimed it would not stop the UK acting alone if it had a disagreement with France over policy.
'There is nothing in this treaty that restricts either country from acting where we want to in our national interest,' he told the BBC.
'We're talking about joint expeditionary forces with our forces in all three services working together to develop common practices, better inter-operability and to look to see where we get better common equipment. That makes perfect sense in a world where resources are tight but our interests are increasingly common.'
Dr Fox said the deal was not the same as allowing the European Union to have responsibility for defence.
'Defence has to be a sovereign capability,' he said. 'If we decide to make a defence deal with France, where we operate together when it's in our interest to do so but retain our capabilities to act independently when our nations require it, that's very different from having a European Commission rule in our defence.'
Two years ago, a leaked French government document revealed most of France’s tanks, helicopters and jet fighters were unusable and its defence capabilities were on the verge of ‘falling apart’.
Under the terms of the defence pact, Britain’s only aircraft carrier capability for the next decade will be the French flagship the Charles de Gaulle.
From 2020, when the UK has its own new carrier, the two countries will agree to keep one of the two at sea.
But that means when Britain’s carrier is in refit, about 30 per cent of the time, the defence of the Falkland Islands could depend on help from the French government, which sold Exocet missiles to Argentina during the 1982 war. And they could simply say: ‘Non.’
Talks: French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Chancellor George Osborne at today's Anglo-French summit at Lancaster House in central London
Commander John Muxworthy, a Falklands veteran who is chief executive of the UK National Defence Association, branded the plan ‘utterly irresponsible’.
He said: ‘This compromises our operational integrity completely. If we need to send a carrier to protect one of our territories, and ours is in refit, and the French say, “Well, we don’t agree – you’re not using ours”, we’re not going to be doing much protecting.
‘It is not in the best interests of the nation. The Government is trying to paint the picture that this is the smart way to do defence, but the reality is that ministers are trying to disguise the cuts and have defence on the cheap.’
British and French forces earmarked for the rapid reaction ‘expeditionary force’ will train together from next year.
The plans will have serious implications for Nato because Britain and France could carry out operations outside the alliance, but officials say it is better than allowing the EU to develop military capabilities.
Mr Cameron said yesterday: ‘I do seriously believe that this link-up with the French is in the long-term interests of both our countries.
‘And to those who worry that this might in some way lead to sort of European armies – that is not the point. The point is to enhance sovereign capability by two like-minded countries being able to work together.’
New Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards said: 'From a purely practical military perspective, we have been working very closely with the French ever since the First World War, but particularly in Nato,' he said in a BBC interview ahead of the summit.
'We lost some of that in the 1990s and the last 10 years or so, so we are almost going back to the very close co-operation we had in the Cold War era.
'It makes absolute sense, from my perspective, as we are going to fight alongside the French, which has been our plan for a long time, to be as good at it in training as we possibly can be.'
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: 'I support the Government's emphasis on international co-operation, taking forward the good work of the last government.
'We share common threats with countries such as France, from terrorism to privacy to cyber-attack. Deepening military ties is an essential part of modern defence policy. 'Interdependence, however, is different from dependence, and binding legal treaties pose some big questions for the Government.
'We know British aircraft carriers won't have a strike force on them for a decade. Is today's treaty going to usher in an era where we are reliant on our allies to fill in the gaps in the Government's defence policy?'