France sunk by Royal Navy again after paying €100m for UK warships

Two centuries after the Battle of Trafalgar, the French government took the first of a series of decisions that led accidentally to its taxpayers subsidising two British aircraft carriers

Paris

The Emperor Napoleon would be spinning in his tomb. So might be Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve, the man who lost the Battle of Trafalgar.

In 2005, precisely two centuries after the battle, the French government took the first of a series of decisions that led accidentally to the French taxpayer subsidising two giant warships for the Royal Navy.

The French government’s public spending watchdog protested this week that a defence co-operation agreement signed by Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair in 2006 led to “a French contribution pure and simple to the financing of [two] British aircraft carriers in their early development phase”.

The amount of the accidental cross-Channel subsidy to HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, now under construction on the Firth of Forth, is estimated as at least €100m (£82m) and possibly more than double that. The loss was buried at sea in the small print of the 2013 French defence estimates but dredged from its watery grave by the Cour des comptes, or court of auditors, in its annual report this week.

The saga began in 2005, two centuries after the British, under Nelson, defeated the French and Spanish, under Villeneuve, off Cape Trafalgar. President Chirac’s government decided to co-operate with Britain in building a new generation of aircraft carriers. France was to build one ship, to take the operational pressure off its solitary, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. The British were to build two vessels.

It was clear from the beginning, as the court of auditors points out, that the two countries were sailing in diverging directions. Britain wanted conventionally powered ships for vertical-take-off aircraft. France wanted a nuclear-powered ship which would possess a long deck and catapult equipment for take-off and landing by conventional warplanes.

Nonetheless, the French government signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Britain in 2006. France handed over €102m for the right to consult “off the shelf” the development work already undertaken by Britain. It contributed another €112m over the next two years for further studies. In 2008, under President Nicolas Sarkozy, Paris dropped its plans for the new aircraft carrier which would have cost around €3bn.

“Between 2006 and 2007, France spent €214 m – €102m handed over to London as an entry ticket and €112m in industrial contracts – whose results are now useless to us,” said the Cour des comptes.

Despite this experience, France and Britain are pushing ahead with ambitious plans for defence co-operation in other areas. David Cameron and President François Hollande signed another memorandum last month to develop a Franco-British pilotless fighter plane.

In the circumstances, the least the Government could do is rename the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. When they become fully operational in 2020, at an estimated cost of £6bn, they will be the largest, most expensive ships ever owned by the Royal Navy. They would have been even more expensive without a French subsidy.

How about the HMS Napoleon Bonaparte and the HMS Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map