Fresh light was cast yesterday on the EU's internal battles during the Gulf War by Tory ex-Defence Minister Sir Archie Hamilton.

He said the row between Belgium and the last Government over its attempts to buy some ammunition for the Army in January 1991 was a warning to Labour ministers against trying to build a European defence identity.

He revealed that Belgium was so concerned by tabloid outrage sparked by its refusal to sell Britain the ammunition that its defence minister tried to involve the then Defence Secretary, Tom King, in a ploy to get the British Press off his back.

The Belgians wanted Mr King to send them a telegram, for disclosure to the media, thanking them for sending the ammunition before any had been delivered, Sir Archie told MPs during a Commons debate on the armed forces.

But the Defence Secretary was not ''born yesterday'' and refused so the ammunition never arrived, Sir Archie told MPs.

In general, the support offered by Britain's EU partners during the war against Iraq was ''absolutely dismal'', he claimed. Later, he said: ''We probably got more flying hours out of the Canadians than any of our European partners.''

Recalling the events of 1990-91, Sir Archie said: ''We all know about the Belgians, who had extreme difficulty with their coalition government and wouldn't even sell Defence Secretary Tom King the .155 ammunition which he needed at the time.

''The Belgian defence minister sent Tom a telegram saying, `Will you please, because I am under a bit of pressure from all these British newspapers' - that were slagging the Belgians off for not being very helpful about this war - `Will you send me a telegram saying thank you very much for all the ammunition. I'll send all the ammunition along later but if you just actually thank me for it in advance we'd be extremely grateful.'

''Tom wasn't born yesterday - he didn't send the note to the Belgian defence minister and the ammunition never arrived.''