Britain and France may share nuclear deterrent

Joint submarine patrols were rejected by Brown before the election, but they are now seen as an answer to defence cuts

The possibility of a "shared" UK-French nuclear deterrent is set to be on the agenda of a summit between David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in London this autumn.

A politically explosive proposal for joint Franco-British nuclear-submarine patrols – an idea sunk without trace in the recent past – has been brought back to the surface by the draconian defence cuts in both countries.

Although talks are still at a preliminary stage, officials in Paris say that the idea is one possibility for cost-saving military co-operation which is likely to be discussed by the Prime Minister and the President at the annual Franco-British summit in London in early November.

A senior British defence official acknowledged last night that the possibility of sharing nuclear deterrence capability with the French remains on the table, adding that a "number of options are being studied".

The official, who has advised the Government on nuclear policy, pointed out that although the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has vowed the UK will keep its independent nuclear deterrent, the £20bn cost of replacing Trident meant that "one had to adjust one's sights".

The insistence of Chancellor George Osborne that the money would have to come from the defence budget rather than the Treasury has made looking at cheaper options even more imperative.

The idea of joint submarine patrols has been discussed before – most recently in March – when it was floated by President Sarkozy but rejected by Gordon Brown. The change of government in the UK, and the sheer scale of the threatened defence cuts, have revived the discussions but French and British officials warn that technical and political obstacles have not yet been overcome.

The proposition is simple – if politically fraught. France and Britain each have four nuclear-armed submarines. Each has at least one submarine permanently on patrol, ready to respond to a nuclear attack on its home country. If the two countries pooled their fleets, there could be occasions when only one submarine – either British or French – would be stationed at the bottom of the ocean ready to retaliate against an attack on either country.

This would reduce the number of submarines that each country has to maintain in order to preserve a "credible" nuclear deterrent. It would also help to solve a huge political problem for the Coalition Government by reducing the cost of replacing the existing Trident submarines some time after 2015.

Sharing with the French is still "just a discussion point" but could help to address that problem, the defence official said.

The idea is believed to have been discussed by Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy in March this year and ultimately sunk by Mr Brown as politically unfeasible in an election year. Similar discussions on Anglo-French nuclear co-operation are believed to have occurred in the past, going back to the Edward Heath government in the early 1970s.

Officials in Paris say that new impetus has been given to the idea by the huge budget deficits, and swingeing defence spending cuts, faced by both nations. Other ideas for military "pooling" said to be under discussion before the Franco-British summit include a revised version of a recently rejected proposal for a "shared" use of aircraft carriers and a joint programme for building a new generation of frigates.

Discussions in the past have been hampered by mutual suspicion and fear of negative domestic political and media reactions. The French did not like America's control over the supposedly independent UK nuclear deterrent. Britain suspected France of wanting to create a European defence policy to undermine Nato. These doubts have now been eased, on both sides of the Channel (and the Atlantic), by President Sarkozy's decision to return France to the joint military command of the Atlantic alliance. Politically, however, it is accepted that the idea might still be difficult to swallow in both countries.

Could France be relied upon to retaliate against an attack on the UK, if that might then mean nuclear retaliation against France? And vice versa.

Officials draw attention, however, to an interesting but little-reported comment by President Sarkozy in a speech in Cherbourg in March 2008, just after talks with Mr Brown. "Together with the United Kingdom," he said, "we have taken a major decision: it is our assessment that there can be no situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened."

The possibility of Franco-British nuclear co-operation has been a buzz subject for several weeks in defence think-tanks in both countries. Experts accept that (even though it is more than 200 years since France and Britain fought each other) the old suspicions and rivalries remain.

But they also point out that, in practical terms, a nuclear attack on Britain by a foreign aggressor would also be an attack on France (and vice versa). If British cities were devastated by a nuclear attack, most of northern France would be rendered uninhabitable.

Like Britain's four-string Trident submarine fleet based in western Scotland, France's nuclear deterrent or Force de Frappe consists of four submarines, each armed with 16 missiles. The fleet, currently reduced to three with a new submarine under construction, is based at L'Ile Longue, opposite the port of Brest in Brittany.

* Labour is set to fight the next general election on a pledge to halt the proposed £20bn Trident upgrade. Ed Miliband said yesterday that he wanted Britain to retain an independent nuclear deterrent but questioned the need for the like-for-like replacement supported by the Conservative Party.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick