Photo of William Hague

William Hague (The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)

I would like to update the House on the UK/France summit on 17 February in Paris.

Last Friday’s summit followed that of November 2010 which resulted in the signature of two historic defence treaties at Lancaster house.

The Summit

The summit was hosted by President Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace. President Sarkozy was accompanied by Prime Minister Fillon and his Foreign, Defence and Energy Ministers.

The British delegation was headed by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and me.

France and the UK are co-operating more closely on foreign and security policy issues than at any time since the second world war. Discussions covered foreign policy, defence, security and energy issues, highlighting our shared challenges and priorities. Within this context, we discussed the importance of stabilising the eurozone and restoring growth to the European economy. There were also frank exchanges in areas where we disagree, including the proposal for a financial transaction tax.

At the conclusion of the talks, the President and Prime Minister issued joint declarations covering defence and security, energy and Syria. These can be found at: www.number10.gov.uk.

Energy

A centrepiece of the summit was our landmark agreement to strengthen co-operation between France and the UK on civil nuclear energy. The joint declaration signalled our shared commitment to the future of civil nuclear power, setting out a joint long-term vision of safe, secure, sustainable and affordable energy, that supports growth and helps to deliver our emission reductions targets. The declaration reiterated our commitment to the role of nuclear energy as part of a diversified energy mix, agreeing to work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency to strengthen international capability to react to nuclear emergencies and establish a joint framework for co-operation and exchanging good practice on civil nuclear security. British and French public and private sector bodies in the civil nuclear power industry will also work more closely on education and training; research and development; and security. This strengthened co-operation will be supported by a new Franco-British high-level group on nuclear energy, bringing together industry, Government, and other key stakeholders.

This partnership agreement was underpinned by a number of commercial deals in the field of nuclear energy, worth more than £500 million and creating more than 1,500 jobs across the country. These agreements represent a significant strengthening of the relationship between France and the UK in the field of civil nuclear development and signal the emergence of a competitive supply chain capable of servicing global opportunities. They also constitute the first concrete orders which make the UK new nuclear programme a reality, thus meeting critical objectives for securing our energy supplies and meeting our carbon reduction targets.

Defence and Security

The summit reinforced both sides’ commitment to the increased co-operation initiated in the 2010 Lancaster house treaties. We are similar-sized powers, with similar-sized armed forces and similar ambitions. The strength of our relationship and our determination to improve it were demonstrated throughout our leadership of the campaign to protect citizens in Libya. As part of our work to establish a new joint rapidly deployable force, we will design and develop a deployable headquarters comprising permanent and experienced staff drawn from existing French and UK high readiness command structures; this will be enhanced by an increase in the number of exchange officers on both sides. Beyond this, we agreed to work together to move to the next stage of developing a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles. We also discussed a wide range of actual and potential co-operation on equipment procurement and support to enable both improved capability and interoperability while delivering efficiency savings.

We also confirmed our joint approach to a range of current foreign policy challenges, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme, Somalia ahead of the London conference, Afghanistan and Burma.

Syria

Our discussions on Syria focused on the continued and appalling violence and concluded with a declaration that set out the joint measures that our two countries will take in support of the Syrian people and their aspirations for a better future. These included calling on the UN and other humanitarian agencies to carry out an urgent assessment of humanitarian needs, an increase in humanitarian aid, support for increased pressure on Assad, including an asset freeze on the Central Bank of Syria, and support for a subsequent transition process in Syria.

Conclusions

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated, the summit showed the strength and depth of the UK’s ties with France.

One year on from the Libya uprising, we are working together to stand up to the murderous Syrian regime and to stop a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran. At the United Nations, we co-sponsor more than three quarters of Security Council resolutions. Our commercial relationship is deep and growing with exports increasing and French investment sustaining almost 10,000 jobs in the UK. Our armed forces are working together at the cutting edge of military technology. The UK and France are committed to working together, for the security and the prosperity of both our nations.

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