France has taken the step of recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in a row over their nuclear submarine deal.
The move followed an announcement earlier this week that the US and the UK had agreed to help the Australian navy acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.
The so-called AUKUS defence pact between the UK, US and Australia has been widely seen as an attempt to counter the growing military assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing denounced the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability, but in the Commons on Thursday (16 September), Prime Minister Mr Johnson said it was not intended as an “adversarial” move against China or any other power.
The Prime Minister also insisted that relations with France remained “rock solid” while Downing Street described Paris as “a close ally and friend” of the UK.
The UK’s new foreign secretary Liz Truss has said the UK’s new security agreement with the US and Australia will make it safer and could create hundreds of new jobs.
She also said it showed the UK’s readiness to be “hard-headed” in defending its interests.
However, the decision meant the cancellation of a £30 billion deal for France to supply conventional diesel-electric submarines to Australia.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the “exceptional decision” to recall its ambassadors was justified by the “exceptional gravity” of the actions of the two Western allies.
Mr Le Drian made no mention of recalling the French ambassador to London, which suggests the French regard the US as the prime movers in the deal.
‘Unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners’
In his statement, Mr Le Drian said he was acting on the instructions of President Emmanuel Macron.
He said: “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States.”
Mr Le Drian said their actions constituted “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”.
On Saturday (18 September), the Australian government expressed “regret” over France’s decision.
A spokesperson for Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement: “We note with regret France’s decision to recall its Ambassador to Australia for consultations following the decision on the Attack Class project.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.
“Australia values its relationship with France, which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. This will not change.
“We look forward to engaging with France again on our many issues of shared interest, based on shared values.”
France’s foreign minister has also accused Australia and the US of lying over the new security pact.
Mr Le Drian also accused the countries of “duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt”.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had acted in the country’s national interests.
He said the French government “would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns” that the deal signed in 2016 “was not going to meet our strategic interests”.