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Commentary | 25 November 2016

The Implications of Brexit on UK-France Defence Cooperation

Image of Emmanuel Dupuy

Emmanuel Dupuy |President Institute for European Perspective & Security

Brexit EU France United Kingdom Euro-Atlantic Security European Defence

The decision taken by British voters to leave the European Union, the subsequent delay in invoking Article 50 and the time taken to begin the formal exit negotiations will hopefully not increase resentment towards Great Britain amongst French political, academic and think-tank leaders, most of all on defence and security terms.
At the second meeting of the UK-France Leadership Group, hosted recently by the European Leadership Network (ELN) in the UK Parliament, it was clear that both sides could overcome the mistrust that might otherwise lead to resentment. To prevent antipathy between our two nations, it is important to consider what we have in common in the field of security.

First, as founding members of NATO and permanent members of the UN Security Council, we share common international responsibilities. We benefit mutually throughout Commonwealth and Francophonia from a wider and “strategic” depth in terms of soft power. We are both present on three oceans with our extensive Exclusive Economic Zones.

Second, we are contributors to regional and global peace and stability. The UK and France, as part of the P5+1 or E3+3, cooperated in developing the Iranian nuclear deal and continue to work together on the European and international stages to support the peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Third, we face common, volatile and asymmetrical threats including international terrorism and cyber threats.
And fourth, we are the core of European armament capacity as our defence industries represent almost 40% of European defence exports. In 2016, France became the second largest global defence exporter behind the USA, pushing Russia into third place.

The decision taken by British voters is not to be questioned. The Brexit issue, when it comes to defence, rather enhances the urgent need for closer cooperation between the Europeans. The recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, given his statements on European security, further highlights the urgency of better Franco-British defence contacts.

12 years after the Saint-Malo Summit in December 1998, the main framework of the UK-France defence policy cooperation remains the Lancaster House Agreements signed on 2nd of November 2010, effective for the next 50 years.

There are two major treaties of the Lancaster House Agreements. The first, related to the creation of the radiographic and hydrographic simulation capabilities, links to the ban of nuclear tests. The second allows for development of more intensive, robust and sustainable bilateral industrial, human and operational capabilities, as well as intensified strategical level of cooperation when it comes to planning, control & command of joint operations, and also permanent operational capabilities in terms of aircraft carriers and submarines.

We should also take into consideration the letter of intent concerning the reinforcement of cooperation between our two armed forces, which led to the creation of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), fully operational as a land force by 2016 and by 2020 on a maritime level.

On that particular point, the new strategic context (as the Libyan Crisis had shown previously and the Malian/Sahelian Crisis as well as the increase of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and along the shores of Africa confirms) means that the CJEF can prove to be quite useful as an early entry force capable of facing multiple threats up to the highest intensity, to be used in the context of UN, NATO or EU missions.

The UK leaving the European Union will hopefully not burden these common Franco-British projects and ambitions. Every time the French and British work together, they have managed to deliver an exceptional product (Concorde, Scalp/Storm Shadow/ Meteor air to air missiles), which outpaced largely the American and other competition.

Brexit will not have a “juridical” effect on our bilateral relations, given that they depend largely on prior multilateral agreements, amongst these, the OCCAR (Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation) Letter of Intent signed in July 2000 between 6 European countries (France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden) which allowed the strengthening of the European defence industry and the development of an stronger and more independent European Industrial & Technological Defence Base.

The UK and France have already gone in the right direction in the field of missile capability, with the construction of an autonomous long range cruise missile (Scalp/Storm Shadow) bringing together Matra-Aerospatiale/Bae-Gec Marconi, core of the MBDA (created in 2001).

The London Summit of November 2010 prepared the “One MBDA” agreement. This important agreement enhanced the necessity to set up concretely the rationalisation and competitiveness of Europe’s precision-strike missiles, such as in the field of anti-surface Guided Weapons and in the plans for the future anti-ship missiles.

The cooperation will have to grow stronger in the maritime domain as well, as both sides must engage in the field of naval interoperability, especially given the arrival of the aircraft-carrier Queen Elizabeth by 2020, the discussions over the next generation of French aircraft carrier, and the complementarity between France’s Bateau de Projection et de Commandement (BPC, such as Mistrals) and the British Helicopter-Carrier Class Ocean.

The recent Euronaval Fair, which took place in Paris in October 2016, confirmed this common ambition, with the launch of the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) project, which will lead, by 2019, to the establishment of a joint ambitious naval UAV cooperation between Thales, BAE Systems, ECA and ASV, opening new horizons in the field of under-water combat.

Finally, London and Paris should also make sure that the common commitment of the two countries to work together for the Future Air Combat System (FCAS) will not suffer because of the Brexit issue.

There is also space for further cooperation with regards to the greater interoperability and coherence in the field of military doctrine, training and equipment requirements.

On a closing note, while there is the need to work close on strengthening defence cooperation, the governments in the UK and France should also be convinced that they have to amplify and promote a common Franco-British position in regards to all of the frameworks connected with the nuclear disarmament issues (Non Proliferation Treaty – NPT; Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty – CTBT; work on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty – FMCT). The next review Conference of the NPT, which will take place in 2020, could give us the unique possibility to draw a common UK-French position on the Article VI (ban of nuclear arm race and collective disarmament) of the NPT.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.