UK Politics

Cameron rejects French claims of 'phoney' defence row

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "Was this some sort of false debate? Absolutely not"

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected French claims he triggered a "fake" row over plans for defence co-operation among EU members.

French president Francois Hollande said the UK had been "a little phoney" over claims that the EU wanted to procure its own military assets such as drones.

But Mr Cameron said the idea had been "floated" at a summit in Brussels and he was clear that it would not happen.

Nato would remain the "bedrock" of UK security, Mr Cameron added.

Downing Street has long feared that moves to extend the EU's common defence and security policy risked undermining Nato and insists that defence remains primarily a matter for member states.

Nato is keen for European countries to contribute more to their own defence but it says the EU itself should not possess its own military assets.

Speaking at the end of the two-day summit, the first to discuss defence for five years, Mr Cameron said he supported co-operation between EU member states in areas of joint concern, such as tackling piracy and cyber terrorism.

'Black and white'

However, he said he had been "very careful" to set parameters for how far such co-operation could stretch to ensure they was no room for any future misinterpretation.

"We should not be looking at EU-owned drones, tanker fleets and we need to be very careful to write this down in language people can see that this is not being contemplated," he said.

"Let's be clear, EU assets, EU drones, planes and the rest of it - some of which were being floated - I think it is very important to make clear is not on the agenda."

Nato's prime role in European defence was not specifically mentioned in the final communique - a situation Mr Cameron said was partially explained by the fact that not all EU members were part of the 28 country alliance.

But Mr Cameron said Nato featured prominently in the document "like the words on a stick of rock" and this had not been the case before he had "started to change" its conclusions.

Image caption David Cameron visited British troops in Afghanistan earlier this week

Mr Hollande claimed British attempts to prevent the EU being given a say over military equipment were "un peu simule", meaning a bit phoney.

But Mr Cameron firmly rejected the French president's claims.

"Was this some sort of false debate?..absolutely not," he said. "It is important to lay these things down in back and white and that is exactly what I have done."

He added: "These things matter If you take your eye of the ball and let through a becomes part of the text of this organisation."

'No drones'

However, Mr Cameron stressed the importance of Anglo-French bilateral co-operation on defence, saying the two countries had similar interests and military capacity and was "excited" about building on recent joint working in Libya and Mali.

The European Commission has insisted it has "no intention to own or procure its own drones".

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who attended the talks at Mr Cameron's request, said recent military operations had shown a need for more European observation drones, air-to-air refuelling planes and heavy transport planes.

But while nation states must "do more to acquire much-needed military capabilities", he said "we're not talking about the EU possessing capabilities".

BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt said European officials privately questioned why the UK had insisted on these changes at the last moment when they have had the conclusions for two weeks.

Mr Cameron also used the summit to repeat his warnings about opening borders to immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, which will happen from 1 January.

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