Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this evening and would like to thank the Franco-British Council for arranging this reception on the eve of the bilateral defence conference.
And I am particularly grateful to Ambassador Emié for hosting the event here at his historic residence.
Defence relations between France and Britain have of course been shaped by our own colourful shared history, characterised for at least the last 100 years, I am pleased to say, from working closely together.
As Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, I am responsible for the UK Ministry of Defence’s contribution to the equipment and acquisition co-operation between our two countries established under the 2010 Lancaster House treaty in 2010.
I co-chair, with my counterpart Laurent Collet-Billon who it is a pleasure to welcome to London today, the UK/FR High Level Working Group which oversees progress in equipment and support collaboration under this treaty. I look forward to next meeting of this group tomorrow.
I also have responsibility for defence exports within the Ministry of Defence. This is a key feature of equipment co-operation.
It makes absolute sense for our co-operation to evolve over time so that we are less likely to be offering competing products in the same export markets.
And we are developing real examples of our willingness to address this issue.
For example I know that in the missile sector MBDA is working closely with our two governments to see how we can optimise export opportunities for future products, particularly those that we might develop jointly.
My remit also includes responsibility for the MOD’s research programme, which is another area where we are already seeing the benefit of working cooperatively.
For example in the Anglo-French Missiles Innovation and Technology Partnership.
This has seen a number of successes such as a novel fuse algorithm which improves the effectiveness of missiles against small fast inshore attack craft.
The current fiscal environment on both sides of La Manche encourages us to develop co-operation between both countries’ military forces.
Financial pressures have impacted both our defence budgets, leading to our growing collaboration being referred to by some commentators as an ‘Entente Frugale’.
But most developed nations are having to reduce spending.
This was certainly the context in which our Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) took place three years ago.
So it is with your Livre Blanc, published only a couple of weeks ago.
These budget constraints do provide a clear reason to drive forward co-operation between our two countries.
But they are not the only reason. No nation can afford to maintain all capabilities to face all possible eventualities and all potential threats.
The Lancaster House treaty recognised these realities.
It set down our intent: to share nuclear facilities; to increase interoperability between our two nations’ armed forces; and to take forward a range of separate joint equipment initiatives.
We are stronger when we act together, when we provide each other with complementary capabilities.
At the military to military level this co-operation is progressing well.
This is vital.
With the US focusing increasingly on the Pacific, Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security.
So it was positive that France and Britain played leading roles in the 2011 NATO campaign over Libya.
But we need to become progressively better at doing these things with less reliance on US support.
It is all the more important therefore that we continue to develop the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, building an early entry combined force capable of conducting complex interventions.
It is on track to be available in 2016 for bilateral, NATO, EU, UN or other coalition operations.
French-led operations in Mali showed the types of circumstances under which this force might be deployed in the future.
Britain moved quickly to provide logistical and surveillance support to the French campaign in Mali.
The decisiveness that France showed in undertaking this operation emphasises why we regard France as our natural, and key, defence partner in Europe.
These deployments, as well as Exercises such as Corsican Lion last autumn and Joint Warrior, show us the growing significance of our endeavours together.
But they also highlight where we need to improve our ability to cooperate, be that in understanding each others planning processes, Command and Control and Information Systems.
Interoperability is partly about understanding how we both work, but it is also about the equipment we use.
Co-operation in the acquisition and support of equipment was one of the key drivers behind the Lancaster House Summit.
Co-operation on equipment acquisition is not of course new.
But we are moving this to the next level. The UK-France High Level Working Group aims to enhance the way in which we co-operate.
In the missiles or complex weapons sector, for instance, the treaty set out an ambitious 10 year plan to deliver significant efficiencies in both our countries through greater co-operation and rationalisation.
This plan sits alongside the aim of creating a single prime contractor for missiles in Europe.
This co-operation shows the strength of the mutual trust that our two nations are developing.
And it is essential, because the financial pressure we are under is unlikely to recede in the near future.
Examining other areas where we can pool and share capabilities and become interdependent is something that we are routinely reviewing.
Success to date
We’ve made some good progress on joint acquisition.
The future anti surface guided weapon, Anti Navire Leger, is a helicopter launched missile being developed for our two navies.
And I’m delighted that, following publication of the Livre Blanc, France has confirmed its intention to proceed.
This missile will provide the sort of capability that we will both need in potential future joint operations.
Remotely piloted air systems is another area where we are striving to achieve benefits from closer co-operation under the treaty.
This is not just a paper exercise.
The UK is assisting France with an operational evaluation of the Watchkeeper tactical UAS.
French armed forces have been trained in the UK and are now flying UK loaned equipment in France.
This military to military co-operation is key.
The twinning of the British Royal Artillery 32nd Regiment and the French Artillery’s 61st Regiment is a practical demonstration of such co-operation.
And significant progress has been made on the new 40mm cannon and ammunition for both of our forces.
It is a product of close working between our two governments and defence industries.
This new ammunition is smaller in size than existing shells but still delivers the same explosive effect.
Its reduced size has been highly welcomed by crews of our armoured fighting vehicles.
All of these capabilities would have been more difficult and more expensive to develop on our own.
They show that co-operation, in war fighting and in acquiring capabilities, enhances both our abilities to continue to operate meaningfully on the world stage.
I began with a comment on our shared history. So I’ll end with a quote from General De Gaulle.
‘’France has no friends, only interests.’’
I know from my dealings with French counterparts that your interests very definitely include making a success of co-operation with Britain.
But I disagree with the President. France also has many friends on this side of the Channel.
And I look forward to working with my French friends to pursue our shared interests.