Britain, France 'plan defence pact'
Britain and France could share their aircraft carrier capability in a dramatic co-operation pact designed to maintain military power while cutting costs, it has been reported.
The Ministry of Defence described the report in The Times as "speculation" ahead of the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, expected next month.
But a source said that ideas for all sorts of co-operation would be "on the table" when Defence Secretary Liam Fox visited Paris for talks with his French counterparts on Friday, and did not exclude the possibility of the aircraft carriers being discussed.
The Times suggested that the proposal could be officially unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy at a summit in November.
Under the arrangement, British and French flagships would work together to defend the interests of both countries, said the paper. The plan would ensure that one of three ships - one French and two British - was always on duty at sea. And special protocols would be drawn up to make clear what should happen if a uniquely British interest such as the Falkland Islands comes under threat when the French are in charge.
If confirmed, the move could make it easier for the UK to scrap or downgrade one of the two replacement carriers being constructed for the Royal Navy at a cost of £5.2 billion.
The Times quoted a Whitehall source as saying: "Liam has made it clear that we want more co-operation as we have to face up to the world we are living in.
"The advantage is that if we are going to have one carrier, then at least we can project our power on the sea even if we go down to a single carrier."
But the Ministry of Defence declined to discuss the report.
An MoD spokesman said: "The Defence Secretary has made clear that tough decisions will need to be made but the complex process of a Strategic Defence and Security Review will be concluded in the autumn. Speculation at this stage about its outcome is entirely unfounded."