Britain and France ‘to share naval power’

by Peter Wozniak

French and Royal Navy aircraft carriers could share responsibility for patrolling the world’s oceans, according to media reports.

As a result of straitened budget conditions, ministers are considering the practical ramifications of such a move.

The plans could result in the building programme for at least one the UK’s two new aircraft carriers being scaled back, with serious implications for the shipbuilding industry, as the projects are already underway, costing £5.2 billion.

This scaling back would mean one of the UK carriers operating at a much reduced capacity, effectively as a troop transport or helicopter carrier, rather than the originally envisioned role of a platform for modern jets.

If carrier missions were shared with France, then one of three Anglo-French vessels would always be on patrol.

It is understood that Liam Fox, the defence secretary, has been preparing the ground for closer co-operation with the French for some time.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week: “I heard our British allies’ statements on bilateral co-operation with France. We will discuss this with them without taboos and take important decisions in November.”

The prospect has faced significant opposition from commentators questioning the practicalities of the arrangement. The question of what would happen were a vital British interest, such as the Falklands, to come to the boil while only the French carrier was on patrol, have yet to be answered.

French and British aircraft would also be incompatible with each others’ carrier platforms.
David Cameron and President Sarkozy could announce the policy, if it goes ahead, at a summit in November.