Closer Anglo-French defence cooperation after Brexit

French President Emmanuel Macron met British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the English county of Berkshire on 18th January for the 35th Anglo-French summit. This summit came as Britain tries to strengthen bilateral ties before leaving the European Union in March 2019.

Common interests

Britain and France are the two European countries with global interests and responsibilities, many of them shared. Real progress has been made in recent years on building a close Anglo-French partnership on defence and security. Brexit will not weaken the case for that, but it will change the context.

Britain’s defence sector remains a crucial part of its economy. The UK is the second-largest global exporter in defence — making up 9 per cent of the international market. From Oman to Brazil, it has won significant contracts over the past decade. Following the departure from its most important trading bloc, it must continue collaborating with other European countries on developing new technologies. This is especially vital given the squeeze on defence budgets.

Hence, according to U.K. diplomats, Britain intends to use summits like the one in Sandhurst to retain its influence on the Continent after it leaves the formal diplomatic infrastructure of the EU.

Theresa May said the Anglo-French summit « will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad. »

Defence industrial collaboration

Despite recent UK defence cuts, Britain and France remain far ahead of other European nations when it comes to deploying combat forces overseas. Indeed, Britain and France have the largest defence industries in Europe, with a long history of co-operation on joint projects. The two sides agreed at Lancaster House to pursue a range of new programmes. The flagship was an unmanned combat air system for the 2030s. A consortium led by BAE Systems and Dassault is working on a €2bn contract from the two governments to produce prototypes by the early 2020s for operational testing.

Cooperation on advanced missiles has also been a real success story. Working through MBDA, which was created in 2001 by the merger of sensitive UK, French and Italian defence assets, Britain and France have developed joint programmes (such as the Meteor air-to-air missile), while saving costs through inter-dependence with centres of excellence in each country specialising on different aspects of the technology.

Join operations

Here again, Britain and France are unique in Europe in having forces of the size, capability and experience to lead significant combat operations. Since Lancaster House, the two militaries have developed a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, a pool of units from all three services, trained to operate together in a range of scenarios up to high-intensity combat. During the summit, Theresa May confirmed that the UK-France Combined Joint Expeditionary Force will be ready to deploy up to 10,000 troops quickly and effectively to face any threat by 2020.


Britain and France face the same threat from Islamist terrorism. The security and intelligence agencies work closely together. But effective law-enforcement co-operation depends on many EU data-sharing arrangements (fingerprints, DNA etc), instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant, and agencies such as Europol.

The leaders of the five main U.K. and French spy agencies met for the first time during the summit, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing.

Moreover, the British Ministry of Defence and the French defence ministry will establish “a UK-France defence ministerial council”, to act as a “permanent and regular forum”, for the French and British defence secretaries to exchange ideas and carry out joint planning.

© Photo credit: REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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