YESTERDAY'S Ministry of Defence consultative Green Paper put the central problem of Britain's future defence policy very clearly: “We cannot proceed with all the activities and preparation we currently aspire to while simultaneously supplying our current operations and investing in the new capacity we need.” In other words Britain cannot afford the defence resources needed to back up its ambition to be seen as a significant military power. The Green Paper is a consultative document designed to stimulate debate before the Strategic Defence Review starts after the coming general election.

One suggestion made in the Green Paper is for greater defence collaboration between Britain and France, especially in the procurement of weapons and equipment. This was immediately jumped on yesterday by Liam Fox, the Conservative shadow defence minister, although it has recently been strongly endorsed by Malcolm Rifkind, a former Conservative defence minister. There are obvious advantages, as well as difficulties, in this idea but it would not get very far with a Conservative government unless there was a substantial change in its attitude to any form of co-operation with its European Union partners. Although new policy initiatives are pouring out of Conservative Central Office there has been very little on foreign policy and even less on relations with Europe. At some point Mr Cameron must make clear exactly were he stands on Europe because it affects many areas of UK government policy.