LONDON (Reuters) - An agreement between Britain and France to cooperate on defence does not compromise either country’s sovereignty or weaken the NATO alliance, defence minister Liam Fox said on Thursday.
Fox also said British defence companies would be encouraged to enter the French market.
British and French officials are finalising the next steps for greater integration of defence capabilities after both countries signed a pact in November to work together, partly to save money as European defence budgets are cut back.
“Let me very clear about sovereignty. One of the reasons we are very keen on this model is because it allows us complete sovereign control,” Fox told parliament’s upper chamber.
“This is about two major European powers willing to act together when it’s in our common benefit to do so, but retaining the levers to act separately when our national interests requires it,” he added.
Media reports in recent weeks have speculated that Britain would seek a similar pact with Germany, but a senior defence source said there were no plans. British defence officials will attend the Munich Security Conference that starts on Friday.
There has been criticism that a bilateral pact between Britain and France, near neighbours and Europe’s biggest defence spenders, could weaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
“Strengthening bilateral relationships inside a multi-lateral organisation can be hugely beneficial. No one has ever suggested that the very strong relationship between the UK and United States inside NATO weakens NATO, so why should be that be true for Anglo-French cooperation?” Fox said.
He reiterated plans for closer cooperation between France and Britain on developing submarine systems, complex weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite systems and saw commercial opening for British firms .
“There is a tendency for defence companies to say we find it difficult to access the French defence market, we find hidden obstacles. Well we will want to explore those,” Fox said.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Keith Weir