Ex-Airbus boss urges UK-French defence industry ties after Brexit

PARIS (Reuters) - A leading French industrialist has urged France and Britain to preserve co-operation in the defence industry despite Britain’s departure from the European Union next year.

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Fabrice Bregier, former head of the MBDA missiles company and later planemaking boss and chief operating officer of aerospace group Airbus, said experience had shown western Europe’s leading military powers could have close co-operation.

The comments come amid growing signs of a rift between Britain and the rest of Europe in defence and security as Britain is excluded from work on the Galileo satellite programme and France and Germany start work alone on a new combat jet.

Bregier is the former CEO of Matra BAE Dynamics, a 50/50 venture formed in 1996 between British and French interests that led development of Europe’s Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missile.

With the addition of Italian participation, this later evolved into MBDA, the world’s second largest missiles manufacturer which Bregier ran from 2001 to 2003.

Although 50/50 ventures are seen as tricky to maintain in highly political arenas such as defence, Bregier said the sensitive UK-French missiles co-operation had worked smoothly.

“This company was a dynamic success and demonstrated that the French and British can co-operate even in a 50-50 partnership,” Bregier said late on Wednesday.

“I think the lesson that can be drawn is that we must continue co-operation with Britain – Brexit or no Brexit,” he added.

“It is a great country, and an important country in both defence and business, and we have the possibility to continue to develop big projects and large-scale co-operation and joint ventures with the British side.”

Bregier was speaking after receiving an award in Paris, in his first public appearance since stepping down from Airbus in February following a succession row at the aerospace group.

French media have linked Bregier with several jobs including the vacant leadership of Air France-KLM AIRF.PA, but allies say he is not interested in running the strike-prone airline.

Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer and Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter