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Advantage UK if Germany bails on fighter-jet project with France, says British ex-minister


Any decision by Germany to jettison its €100 billion fighter-jet project with France and remove its veto on a UK-Saudi aircraft deal would be “advantageous” to Britain’s defence interests, a senior British MP has told Brussels Signal.

An agreement between London and Berlin would be expected to see German Chancellor Olaf Scholz removing the European Union’s largest nation’s veto on the UK’s delivery of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia in a deal worth £5 billion.

The swing-role combat aircraft – suited to multiple purposes – are to be built by BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire.

Conservative MP Mark Francois, a former UK defence minister and minister for the armed forces, told Brussels Signal: “The Typhoon production line at Warton is nearly complete so German clearance for a Saudi sale is growing increasingly urgent, to keep the line hot.”

Germany had been blocking the UK-Saudi agreement based on concerns that the aircraft would be used for the ongoing war in Yemen. That decision angered the British Government, which views the sale of the fighter jets as strategically important.

Francois added: “Looking ahead, it could be advantageous if Germany were also to join the Tempest/GCAP [air power] programme, providing there were firm assurances we would not face similar obstacles to export sales of the new fighter in the future.”

Berlin is currently signed up to the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme looking to provide the next generation of air power in Europe.

The programme is beset with difficulties over delays, design and financing. Germany has already earmarked €40 billion to put towards FCAS, which is not  expected to be ready until 2040.

The UK, Japan and Italy are working together to build a rival system of fighter jets and drones called the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), also known as Tempest – the name of the stealth fighter under development by BAE Systems and Rolls Royce. This programme aims to deliver its first aircraft by 2035.

In a move backed by the British Government, Saudi Arabia has also asked to be made a full partner of the programme. That would mean existing members sharing the billions of pounds in costs with one of the world’s biggest defence spenders.

According to reports in The Times newspaper, Scholz was concerned that FCAS was becoming an extravagant “white elephant” and saw no point in it competing with Tempest.

It said he had suggested either merging the two programmes or, failing that, bailing out of the France and Spain deal to join the UK alliance.

The Times report claimed the German Chancellor was “exasperated ” by France giving preferential treatment to its own aerospace companies in the initial stages of the FCAS project.

It added that a senior source in the German Government had remarked: “When France says European defence policy, it means French industrial interests. Scholz feels he has far more in common with the British than with the French on these issues.”