Defence attachés are not usually very loquacious in public. But the British defence attaché to France, Air Commodore Paul Lyall, has warned that “the United Kingdom does not have the means to act alone for its defence, no more than France does.” He was answering a question posed by the French Senate’s Committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces on 25 May, two days before he was prevented from speaking in public by purdah* prior to the European Union referendum in the UK.
Josette Durrieu, senator for the Hautes-Pyrénées and vice president of the committee, wanted to know whether the UK was “not a necessary partner, notably where defence is concerned?” Lyall replied that “the security and defence of our country cannot be disassociated from the security and defence of other European countries. This is a fact that will not change with the referendum, whatever its outcome.”
He added that: “We are looking for more pragmatic and more efficient partnerships. NATO and the EU are important partners and we see the complementarity between the two. There is also the United States, and of course France. A few weeks ago in England we organised a joint exercise to show the efficiency of the bilateral effort, with 2,000 troops on the ground. I was struck by the desire the British and French soldiers had to work together. We’d also like to cooperate more with the Germans.”
He did however underline a “problem that we are facing concerning the convergence between our defence industries. We would be greatly more efficient in the future if we could learn to manufacture and export together. This is a difficult challenge but one that is vital for the future.”
Over to industry then.
The air commodore, who was accompanying Sir Julian King, the British Ambassador to France, for his hearing by the French Senate on 25 May, answered this “defence” question at the ambassador’s invitation. King had earlier specified that “We hope (…) we can deepen our bilateral defence cooperation, which we consider essential, along the lines of the Lancaster House agreements.”
* Purdah refers to a specified period of time (usually three or four weeks) before an election when civil servants are banned from making any kind of announcement. The idea is that the political party in government should not be able to use the civil service to help sway the vote.