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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 13:58 GMT

UK Politics

Tories fear Brize Norton closure

The base's VC10 tankers are to be replaced

The Ministry of Defence has refuted claims that RAF Brize Norton could close in a reorganisation of the military.

The claims have been made by Conservative defence spokesman Robert Key.

He says he has evidence that the government proposes to shut the base in Oxfordshire and replace its ageing VC10 planes with a new fleet to be based at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.

[ image: Shaun Woodward: Closure threatens Oxfordshire's economy]
Shaun Woodward: Closure threatens Oxfordshire's economy
Fellow Tory MP Shaun Woodward, whose Witney constituency includes the base, says the closure would "fundamentally undermine" Britain's defence and wreck the local economy.

Cost-cutting accusation

Mr Woodward told BBC News Online he was not reassured by the MoD's statement that the future of Brize Norton was secure well into the next century.

He believed the base could fall victim to government cost-cutting and said he would press ministers to make a full statement.

"The suggestion that they would consider closing Brize Norton is extraordinary," he said.

"The base has been a centre for swift and effective transfer of British troops when they have been involved in conflict around the world.

"The airbase also provides employment to thousands of people and its closure would devastate not only the local town of Carterton, but would jeopardise jobs and livelihoods throughout Oxfordshire."

MoD yet to make decision

[ image: The base was a vital shipping point for supplies in the Gulf War]
The base was a vital shipping point for supplies in the Gulf War
An MoD spokesman has confirmed that moves are underway to replace the VC10s which are used as tankers to refuel other RAF planes in mid-air on long flights.

The spokesman said more than 60 companies had shown interest in the contract to supply the new planes. He added that Mr Key had "jumped the gun" in assuming a company based at Boscombe Down would be the one selected.

No decision had been made about where the new planes would be based, he said.

He added that even if the planes were moved from RAF Brize Norton the base was of such strategic importance that its future was guaranteed well into the millennium.

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