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By Howard Wheeldon

05 Mar 10. Notwithstanding anticipated horrors likely to emerge from the Prime Minister’s evidence to the Chilcot inquiry today or implied remarks from former Chief of Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie pointing the finger of failure and blame at the then Chancellor Gordon Brown “to fully fund the Army in the way that had been asked” plus ordering huge cuts in defence equipment spend that in the view of many led to the lives of significantly increased numbers of UK troops in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts being lost it seems that in his hatred of anything to do with defence spening, our extraordinary Prime Minister is even now even prepared to risk UK based manufacturing jobs being given to Spain!

Last evening, by courtesy of Tim Hepher at Reuters, I learned what I had feared for several weeks – that by prevaricating on how it might fund a share of the package that would allow the A400M military heavylift to proceed PM Brown is prepared to risk UK based jobs being stolen by another A400M partner – Spain. The bottom line of what Spain is saying is that if Britain is not prepared to join the other six partners on a similar basis of A400M refunding then it should not be allowed to retain the existing levels of work share on the actual program. No one is commenting of course – not EADS, not Spain and certainly not the UK government but having been personally aware for some time that a problem existed on the A400M UK funding process I am in absolutely no doubt that the Reuters account published last night is 100% correct.

Before talking the consequences of what Britain is risking and providing a damming view of what such policy could mean for Britain, for British based manufacturing jobs plus for future defence partnerships between Britain and Europe let me say here that for once there is absolutely no blame attached in my commentary to Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. Indeed, true to say that Lord Mandelson and Minister of State for Trade Promotion and Investment Lord Davies really have worked tirelessly to ensure that Britain plays a full part in the A400M manufacturing process. The problem it seems is fairly and squarely behind the doors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street – in other words Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and HM Treasury that on this and other issues related to important and much needed spending of Defence equipment physically strangling the Ministry of Defence. Sadly it seems that the legacy of Baroness Shriti Vadera and the hatred by this government of anything to do with defence lives on!

Spain, in which nation the A400M will be finally assembled, is apparently demanding that Britain now shifts considerable composite related wings work including jigs and cradles from Filton near Bristol to Spain. It is of course a ridiculous notion and will not occur for the simple reason that just doing this would put the already three-year delayed A400M program back by at least another year. The method in Brown’s madness though is most probably in my view that he hopes if Britain prevaricates on funding arrangements enough that with a bit of luck the whole A400M program that the RAF (Britain is down to buy 25 A400M aircraft) plus the other six partner governments are now so desperate to see moving to full production will get killed off. With it of course would go about 8,500 directly employed jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs in the UK.

Even if there was now to be backtracking on the part of Britain and maybe even Spain the damage done by the UK government action to this program and indeed, the prospect of future industrial partnership between Britain and any of its European partners is enormous. Indeed, not only can this damage be unwound it may well be that Mr. Brown and his cohorts have signed the partnership death knell. It begs the question on other partnership programs such as Eurofighter Typhoon an

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