Friday, December 01, 2006

Irony compounded by irony

I suppose it will take a little time for the implications to sink in, but if the Saudi Eurofighter deal does go down, as the current edition of The Business is warning might happen, then it will have a profound effect on the rest of our defence spending.

This is because the aircraft to be sold to the Saudis come out of the British allocation. And while we would have simply tacked on more machines to the end of the order, that would still have been highly beneficial.

Firstly, it built a delay into the purchases – and as every businessman knows, cash-flow is everything – and, secondly, it meant that we would be buying more Tranche 3 machines, with a ground attack capability, which would be far more useful than having more of the air-superiority versions.

With a number of high-cost defence projects coming through the system all in a rush, the budget was already under pressure. Without the relief afforded by the Saudi deal, the long-rumoured suggestion that something will have to give may now be closer to fruition.

This may be the carrier project – as we intimated earlier or it may be FRES, which are the two largest projects on the immediate horizon, or it may be a combination of many small cuts – which is already happening – plus delays in existing projects.

That the French might then be the ultimate beneficiary of a Saudi cancellation, all over a corruption issue, is profoundly ironic. All you have to do is put three words together - Taiwan, frigates and bribes - and the irony becomes immediately apparent.

But somehow, the idea that the Saudis might buy Rafales as a possible alternative to the Eurofighter simply does not compute. The French aircraft, whatever its merits, is no match for the Eurofighter, and would be hard put to match the US-built F-15s already on the Saudi inventory. Thus, the threat might be a deliberate attempt to probe a raw nerve, by people who understand British psychology all too well.

The financial implications aside, losing the contract to the French could actually be a good thing in the long term. It could wean us off the fashionable, communautaire pretence that the French are partners and remind us that they are competitors. In business as well as politics, the first duty of every Frenchman is to shaft the English. If we understand that it is in our national interest to return the favour, then the great fantasy of the European Union, where all nations happily co-operate in ever closer harmony, will be a step closer to its demise.

Now that really would be ironic, that the Eurofighter - the great symbol of European integration – should contribute to bringing down the "project".


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