It’s fair to say that it’s not often in our history that we’d be hailing an invasion by the French military as good news for this area.
Indeed, the irony of a French force loitering off our beaches, almost within a well-placed cannonshot from the Solent forts would not have been lost on Lord Palmerston, who dedicated so much time and money in ensuring our shores would be safe from our cross-Channel rivals.
But while his Lordship may actually have overlooked the irony and seethed in anger, we welcome the weekend’s French exercise as a helpful project for several reasons.
Firstly, anything that strengthens bonds and co-operation between Allies is to be encouraged.
While there is no specific EU defence force – although the rights and wrongs of that are for another debate – most military actions of recent years have been done in close co-ordination with other countries, even if not under the Nato banner. Think of the French-led action in Libya and Mali, for example.
After signing a defence treaty in 2010, working together and inviting the French to practise here, only makes us closer.
Secondly, there will only be a positive knock-on effect for our economy. The cost to this country to host the French navy’s exercise is small, but they will inevitably be spending some money here. Whether it’s a long-term stay or just a few pints in a local on a Friday night, no businesses will turn down the chance to make a few extra pounds.
And there is no reason why, with a little more time, more of these types of exercises cannot be organised. The French have been very complimentary about their experiences in Browndown and why shouldn’t other navies also be invited to use our harbour and beach, which is a natural centre for training?
As the hundreds of interested bystanders will testify, the sight of Tonnerre discharging her troops was well worth a visit.
So while it may seem counter-intuitive, and against most of the history of this fiercely naval area,we’d welcome the chance to be invaded more often.