France and UK to share military resources under historic new deal
France could support Britain in another Falklands War, Nicolas Sarkozy has signalled as he tries to head off growing fears that the French could veto future military action.
His comments came as he and David Cameron signed an unprecedented pact to share troops, aircraft carriers and nuclear warhead testing sites.
However. the French President risked fanning disquiet by suggesting Britain and France would become more dependent upon each other for defence.
The row centres on the agreement to pool aircraft carriers by the end of the decade.
Ministers believe the move will save money by meaning between them Britain and France will have just one of the huge vessels at sea at any time.
However, the Tory-LibDem coalition has admitted it cannot force the French to agree to military action if it is their ship, the Charles de Gaulle, that is in use.
Tory MPs yesterday criticised the plans, saying the French could not be trusted, but Mr Sarkozy insisted it was unlikely that French military would sit back if Britain was involved in a major conflict.
Asked whether he would be prepared to deploy French forces to deal with a crisis over the Falklands, he said he would only do so if French interests were at stake.
However, he added: “If you, my British friends, faced a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it’s none of our business?”
Speaking at a joint press conference with the Tory leader, Mr Sarkozy also went on to say the countries would also have “a new interdependence”.
Both leaders described the new deal as pragmatic and insisted Britain and France still had “red line” issues on which they would not co-operate.
Ministers insist the nuclear deal alone will save hundreds of millions of pounds.
Britain has co-operated militarily with other countries before, including under the auspices of Nato. However, this is the first time such a wide-ranging agreement has been reached with a single country.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox defended the plans for sharing resources, saying they made a “great deal of sense”.
He batted off calls from Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, to state that British aircraft carriers would definitely be refitted at Rosyth and not in France, although Government sources said it would be “extremely surprising” if that were not the case.
There was a growing sense of unease over the plans among the Tory backbenches.
One Tory MP, Bernard Jenkin, a former shadow defence secretary, claimed there was a “long-term record of duplicity on the French part”.
He added: “When it comes to dealing with allies, we should never be under any illusion.”
Lord West, a security minister in the previous government, suggested Mr Cameron had not been briefed as fully as he ought to have been on the carriers situation – and insisted that Britain should have two of its own.
If you, my British friends, faced a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it’s none of our business?