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France fears Brexit consequences for EU defence capability

PARIS (Reuters) - France fears Britain may downsize its military ambitions once outside the European Union, leaving its neighbour to a role as the only significant power in the region, according to French defence ministry sources.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian published a column on Wednesday in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in which he urged Britons to vote to remain in the EU, stressing the importance of Britain’s defence relationship with its European partners as the west battles jihadi groups in the Middle East and Africa.

“Europe will be stronger with the UK, and the UK will be more secure and more influential if it remains with us,” he wrote.

Speaking after Thursday’s vote to leave, the sources said France still hoped that relationship could continue in some form.

“We have one main partner in Europe when it comes to defence and that is the United Kingdom,” one said. “That’s the country best-placed to deploy forces abroad when necessary, and with whom we can do high-level defence industry cooperation.”

“All this needs to continue because it is in our interests,” said the source, “We want to be sure that after this vote there won’t be a strategic withdrawal by the United Kingdom, that it will continue to be a player on the international scene.”

President Francois Hollande said on Friday that France’s close relations with Britain over defence would be preserved. A more detailed position could be outlined over the coming days, the ministry sources said.

Reporting by Simon Carraud; writing by Andrew Callus; editing by Richard Lough