The UK, US and Australia agreed to co-operate on the development of the first nuclear-powered fleet for the Australian navy in a ground-breaking agreement dubbed Aukus. But this meant that Canberra ripped up a deal worth around £30 billion that was struck with Paris in 2016 for France to provide 12 diesel-electric submarines.
Reacting to the news, Philippe Etienne, French Ambassador to the United States took the opportunity to take a bitter swipe at both the US and the UK.
He wrote: “Interestingly, exactly 240 years ago the French Navy defeated the British Navy in Chesapeake Bay, paving the way for the victory at Yorktown and the independence of the United States.”
Earlier today, the US French Embassy also tweeted: “The choice to exclude a European Union ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region (…) shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”
A diplomatic row broke out, with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accusing the Australians of a betrayal because the alliance meant they scrapped a multi-billion deal for France to provide subs.
Mr Le Drian told France-Info radio: “It was really a stab in the back.
“We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed.”
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted Britain did not “go fishing” for the pact to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia with the US after France called it a “stab in the back”.
Mr Wallace said he recognises the “frustration” from France after speaking to his French counterpart Florence Parly on Wednesday night.
“I understand France’s disappointment.
“They had a contract with the Australians for diesel-electrics from 2016 and the Australians have taken this decision that they want to make a change,” he told BBC Breakfast.
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He added: “I understand the extent to which the French government must be disappointed.”
Boris Johnson told MPs on Thursday that the UK’s military relationship with France is “rock solid” and insisted “we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French” despite the row.
The Prime Minister met with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, and US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.
Downing Street confirmed that the three leaders discussed the subs at the meeting.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: “I wouldn’t say there was one single meeting that did it, this has been something that has been an undertaking of several months, it’s a culmination of that work.”
Mr Morrison told a press conference it was undecided if Australia would purchase British-built BAE Systems Astute class submarines or the Virginia class vessels constructed in the US.
But Mr Johnson said during a Commons statement on Aukus he expects the deal will bring “hundreds of high-skilled, high-wage jobs” to the UK.