13 March 2003 | Robin Parker
The government is facing calls to take advantage of its alliance with the US over a possible war with Iraq to help British defence suppliers win big American contracts.
Shadow defence minister Gerald Howarth has called for an end to the "one-way street" where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) buys from the US much more frequently than the US buys from the UK.
He called on the government to put pressure on the US to reward the UK's support for its war policy with a pledge to give British suppliers a better chance of winning US contracts.
This could include a share of a planned $8 billion of missile defence development projects this year.
Howarth told defence professionals attending a conference in London that, as an ally to the "isolationist" US administration, the UK should push for more open relations with American defence purchasers.
"We're at a critical moment for Anglo-American relations and have never been in a stronger position to secure stronger terms of trade with the US," he said.
"The government should seize this opportunity to get hard backing for Britain and to make it a two-way street - the US expects us to buy from them, but we are an open market and they have to recognise this."
Several delegates at the conference backed Howarth's call.
Nicholas Tarr, head of business strategy at Rolls-Royce, which last week blamed falling orders for a 46 per cent drop in annual profits, said he would welcome more collaborative projects with the US.
"The US runs along more aggressively commercial lines and this is the opportunity to lever open a few more doors there," he said.
Official UK policy appears to support Howarth's demand. In a statement, the MoD told SM: "We have always encouraged a level playing field with the US and we will continue to push for one."
But David Moore, defence logistics analyst at Cranfield University, said British companies would continue to go "cap in hand" to the US.
"There are potentially more chances than ever to sell UK equipment to the US, but the relationship between George Bush and Tony Blair is somewhat one-sided," Moore said. "And we mustn't assume it's an equal partnership.
"We also still have a long way to go in getting relationships right between the MoD and its contractors before we can provide a better service to the US."