We must remember Nelson's legacy

By Geoffrey Van OrdenTODAY is one of those benchmark dates in British history. On October 21 1805 Admiral Nelson won his famous victory over the French at Trafalgar. He thwarted Napoleon's plans to invade England and ensured the Royal Navy's global supremacy for more than 100 years.

TODAY is one of those benchmark dates in British history. On October 21 1805 Admiral Nelson won his famous victory over the French at Trafalgar. He thwarted Napoleon's plans to invade England and ensured the Royal Navy's global supremacy for more than 100 years.

I wonder what Nelson would think of the latest round of Government defence cuts that will see the fighting strength of the Royal Navy fall below that of the French fleet for the first time in centuries? It is not as if Britain's global or maritime interests today are less than those of France.

Our armed forces are more vital than they have been for many years - but they are dangerously over-extended. The Government seems intent on undermining many of the foundations on which their success and strength have been built - the flexibility of the Royal Navy; the Army's regimental system; our defence industry, and the NATO alliance.

NATO is the concrete expression of the close partnership between European Allies and the United States but it is weakened by EU defence ambitions. While many may question the nature of American military engagement in Iraq, the closest possible security relationship with the US continues to be a primary national interest for the UK. NATO should therefore be safeguarded and enhanced.


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It is also a British national interest to maintain a strong defence industry. Most importantly, we want to ensure that our Armed Forces have the best, state-of-the-art equipment to enable them to carry out their very difficult and dangerous tasks. The British Government should be as robust as the French in ensuring that key defence industries prosper and remain within our national economy.

The Government has awarded Thales, a French company, a major share in the contract to build two new aircraft carriers. You might think this a welcome sign of how relations between the UK and France have developed since Nelson's time, but Franco-British co-operation seems to go all one way. President Chirac did all that he could to prevent NATO assuming a role training security forces in the new Iraq - a mission helping speed the return home of British troops.

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The next Conservative Government will ensure our armed forces are properly equipped, pledging an increase in defence spending on frontline forces by £2.7 billion over the next three years. This will include restoration of naval cuts, support for the regimental system and a determination to draw the EU Defence Project back under the NATO umbrella. That will go someway to restoring Nelson's precious legacy of security.

Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative Spokesman on Defence in the European Parliament and a Conservative Euro MP for the East of England.. His latest pamphlet on European Defence Policy is available from 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 1RF or email: gvanorden@europarl.eu.int

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