France pulls out of defence talks after 'stab in the back' from UK

20 September 2021, 08:42 | Updated: 20 September 2021, 10:00

A row between Britain and France has been ignited by a security deal between Britain, the US and Australia
A row between Britain and France has been ignited by a security deal between Britain, the US and Australia. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

France's defence minister has pulled out of talks with her UK counterparts after an extraordinary diplomatic row sparked by Britain's security deal with the US and Australia.

Boris Johnson previously urged French president Emmanuel Macron not to "worry" about the military alliance.

The Prime Minister insisted Anglo-French relations were "ineradicable" on Sunday after France suggested the UK was a lapdog to Joe Biden's White House during a verbal attack.

Dubbed Aukus, the agreement brokered last week will see the UK and US co-operate to develop a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian navy.

But the deal enraged Paris when the Australians announced they were pulling out of a £30 billion agreement with the French to supply it with less-capable conventionally-powered diesel-electric vessels.

Read more: What is AUKUS? Why has the deal been struck? And why is France so angry?

Watch: UK playing 'subsidiary role' in AUKUS pact, French diplomat insists

In a rare step among allies, Mr Macron ordered the recall of the French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra.

No such step followed for London, and France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune suggested it was because the UK was the "junior partner" which had accepted its "vassalisation" by the US.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described Aukus as a "stab in the back" and said it constituted "unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners".

In an interview with France 2 television, Mr Le Drian accused Australia and the US of "duplicity, disdain and lies" and said the recalling of France's ambassadors "signifies the force of the crisis today".

He said allies "don't treat each other with such brutality, such unpredictability, a major partner like France ... So there really is a crisis".

Read more: Enraged France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia over collapsed submarine deal

Read more: Eco-mob's disruptive M25 protest resumes as they demand police slow down traffic

But Mr Johnson insisted Britain and France have a "very friendly relationship", which he described as being of "huge importance".

"Our love of France is ineradicable," he told reporters.

"Aukus is not in any way meant to be zero-sum, it's not meant to be exclusionary.

"It's not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends."

Mr Johnson made the comments while travelling on an RAF Voyager to New York, where he will take part in the United Nations General Assembly.

New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss touched down in New York alongside the Prime Minister, as they both prepare to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Tuesday.

She launched a defence of the agreement, widely seen as a counter to increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the region, in an article for the Sunday Telegraph.

Read more: Northern Line extension to halve journey time to central London

Read more: All children aged between 12 and 15 in England to be offered Covid jab from Monday

Ms Truss said Britain would always be a "fierce champion" of freedom and free enterprise around the world.

"It shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts," she added.

Both Ms Truss and Mr Johnson will come into contact with the French at the UN summit, though the extent of any conversations was unclear.

The Prime Minister was hoping to use the 76th UN General Assembly to urge high-income countries to pledge money to support developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions ahead of the Cop26 climate summit - something he has conceded he only has a "six out of 10" chance of doing.

He said it would be "tough" to get allies to meet a pledge of 100 billion dollars (£73 billion) in time for the summit in November.

Downing Street has said developed countries have "collectively failed" on their 100 billion dollar target, with OECD figures last week showing that only 79.6 billion dollars in climate finance was mobilised in 2019.

So, alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Mr Johnson will convene a meeting of world leaders on Monday to call on them to deliver on their promise to the world's poorest.

Read more: Gas price crisis: Taxpayers 'face multibillion pound bill' bailing out energy firms

Read more: Gabby Petito: Body 'matching the description' of missing woman found

Also at the UN summit, Mr Johnson is expected to challenge Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro, a notorious climate change sceptic, on deforestation during a separate meeting.

Mr Bolsonaro has been the subject of international criticism for his moves to roll back legal protection for the Amazon rainforest.

During the flight, Mr Johnson said: "I think it's in the long-term interests of Brazil and the people of Brazil to recognise the spectacular natural inheritance, the endowment that they have, and to conserve that and I'm sure President Bolsonaro agrees with that."

He also vowed to tell Amazon boss Jeff Bezos during a meeting on Monday that the online giant must pay its fair share of taxes in the UK and address working standards for employees.

He added: "I will also be congratulating him on his massive forestry initiative. He's putting a huge amount into planting trees around the world."