United Kingdom

French minister accuses Britain of returning to the 'American lap'

France intensified the growing diplomatic war over a cancelled £30billion submarine contract and dismissed Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the opportunist 'fifth wheel on the carriage' in the new security pact between America and Australia. 

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Foreign Minister in Paris, on Saturday said his country was fully justified in recalling its Ambassadors from Washington D.C. and Canberra, in the latest stinging rebuke by the French.

French President Emmanuel Macron is furious at the new submarine pact between the three countries, which caught France off guard and resulted in the cancelation of £65.5billion pound contracts for Australia to build French diesel submarines.  

When asked on the France 2 radio station why his Ambassador to London had not been recalled too, Mr Le Drian suggested there was no need.

Britain was known for its ‘permanent opportunism’ and Mr Johnson was deemed the ‘fifth wheel on the carriage anyway,’ said French Foreign Minister Le Drian.

In his furious attack on all three members of the new AUKUS pact – America, Australia and Britain – Mr Le Drian said all had acted disgracefully.

The pact does not make the design of Australia's new submarines clear, but they will be based on previous US and UK designs. Pictured above is a cross-section of Britain's Astute-class nuclear attack subs, which is likely to mirror the new vessels

In his furious attack on all three members of the new AUKUS pact – America, Australia and Britain – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (left) said all had acted disgracefully. French Ambassador to the US Philippe Etienne (right) has been recalled amid a diplomatic row over a new US-UK-Australia alliance

Mr Le Drian attacked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had reportedly told him about the ripping up of the submarines contract just an hour before the new AUKUS deal was announced on live TV on Wednesday.

‘That’s why I say there has been duplicity, contempt and lies and when you have an ally of the stature of France, you don't treat them like this,’ said Mr Le Drian.

‘When we see the U.S. president with the Australian Prime Minister announcing a new agreement, along with Boris Johnson, the breach of trust is profound.

‘In a real alliance you talk to each other, you don't hide things, you respect the other party and that is why this is a real crisis.’

Mr Le Drian said he expected support from European Union allies, explaining: ‘I don't believe we are alone in this affair – it's not finished’ he said.  

Europe Minister Clement Beaune suggested it was because the UK was the 'junior partner' which had accepted the 'vassalisation' of the US

In the Commons on Thursday, Boris Johnson sought to smooth over the differences, insisting relations with France remained 'rock solid'

It comes as a bitter French minister today accused Britain of returning to the 'American lap' as Paris continued to lash out after losing a £30billion deal to supply the Australian navy with a new fleet of submarines. 

Emmanuel Macron's government reacted with fury at news the Australians were pulling out of the agreement in favour of  acquiring a more capable fleet of nuclear-powered - although not nuclear-armed - vessels with US and UK assistance.

The announcement prompted a humiliated Mr Macron to order the recall of the French ambassadors from Washington and Canberra - a move virtually unheard of among such close allies.

However, there was no similar order for the French envoy to London to return to Paris for consultations.

France also recalled its ambassador to Australia but has not yet made any move to remove its ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna.

French officials are thought to view the US as prime movers in the deal and Boris Johnson insisted the UK's relationship with France is 'rock solid' despite the row. 

But a French diplomat slammed Britain for acting 'opportunistically' and former British ambassador to France Lord Peter Ricketts said he expects further measures against all three countries.

But in a series of acid-tongued interviews with French television, Europe Minister Clement Beaune suggested it was because the UK was the 'junior partner' which had accepted the 'vassalisation' of the US.

'Our British friends explained to us they were leaving the EU to create Global Britain. We can see that this is a return into the American lap and a form of accepted vassalisation,' he said.

'The UK is clearly trying to find its feet, perhaps there was a lack of thought about the strategic future. Today they are hiding in the American fold. I hope that will not be their policy for the decades to come.'

He later added: 'We see through this partnership, this strategic alliance and after the Kabul crisis, that Global Britain seems to be more about a US junior partner than working with different allies.'

In the Commons on Thursday, Boris Johnson sought to smooth over the differences, insisting relations with France remained 'rock solid' while Downing Street described Paris as 'a close ally and friend' of the UK.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister also made clear he expected the agreement to bring 'hundreds' of highly-skilled jobs to Britain - jobs which may well have otherwise gone to France.

America and the UK are to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as part of an unprecedented alliance known as the AUKUS pact to combat China's naval dominance and will likely be the similar design as this Astute class submarine HMS Ambush (pictured)

The announcement of the deal prompted a humiliated Mr Macron to order the recall of the French ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. Pictured is a US sub in Guam 

The French were reportedly furious they had not only lost the contract, but were given just a few hours' notice of the new agreement ahead of what are expected to be a tough election year for Mr Macron.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was a 'stab in the back' and constituted 'unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners'.

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.

Australia will acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines and a host of other advanced military technology from the UK and US after singing an historic deal aimed at countering China's growing power

Australia's defence minister has today admitted that war with China is possible in the South China Sea (pictured) with Taiwan (top) as the likely flashpoint. China claims control over the whole of the sea, which other nations dispute 

Beijing swiftly denounced the initiative as 'extremely irresponsible' and a threat to regional peace and stability.

In the Commons on Thursday, Mr Johnson said it was not intended as an 'adversarial' move against China or any other power.

He also insisted that relations with France remained 'rock solid' while Downing Street described Paris as 'a close ally and friend' of the UK.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister also made clear he expected the agreement to bring 'hundreds' of highly-skilled jobs to Britain — jobs which may well have otherwise gone to France. 

'Like a scene from Le Carré': How just TEN people in Britain knew about AUKUS submarine deal - codenamed 'Operation Hookless' - which was No10's biggest secret 'in years'

Only ten people knew about the landmark AUKUS deal in which Britain and the U.S. will collaborate in providing Australia with its first ever fleet of nuclear submarines.

Boris Johnson, President Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced the new pact on Wednesday night, provoking uproar from China and France, who recalled its ambassador to America shortly afterwards.

The announcement resulted in the cancellation of a multi-billion-pound contract for Australia to buy diesel-powered French submarines.

According to The Times, the AUKUS deal was codenamed Operation Hookless inside Number 10 and was the most closely guarded secret inside government for many years.

Among the tiny number of people in the know – besides the PM – were outgoing Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, National Security advisor Sir Stephen Lovegrove and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.

The clandestine discussions were said by a defence source to be like a scene from a John Le Carré novel.  

Among the tiny number of people in the know – besides the PM – were outgoing Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, National Security advisor Sir Stephen Lovegrove and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin (pictured)

Defence sources familiar with the discussions told the newspaper that Australia had decided that the submarines which it had agreed to buy from France were not enough to ward off the threat posed by China.

They instead wanted nuclear-powered ones which are faster and stealthier and not in need of regular refuelling.

Another man who was reportedly in the top-secret loop of decision-makers was John Bew, Mr Johnson’s foreign policy advisor.

Those who were aware are said to have been ordered to sign a paper vowing to not speak of the secret discussions outside of the group.

Why is Australia building nuclear-powered submarines? 

Why nuclear submarines?

Nuclear submarines are powered by nuclear reactors which produce heat that creates high-pressured steam to spin turbines and power the boat's propeller. 

They can run for about 20 years before needing to refuel, meaning food supplies are the only limit on time at sea.

The boats are also very quiet, making it harder for enemies to detect them and can travel at top speed - about 25mph - for longer than diesel-powered subs.

The first nuclear submarines were put to sea by the United States in the 1950s. They are now also in use by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, and India. 

A senior US defense official told reporters in Washington DC: 'This will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically deploy for a longer period, they're quieter, they're much more capable.' 

Will Australia have nuclear weapons? 

Scott Morrison made it clear that the nuclear-power submarines will not have nuclear missiles on board.

Australia has never produced nuclear weapons and signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 which prevents non-nuclear states which don't already have them from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Morrison also said the Australia has no plans to build nuclear power stations which are widely used around the world. 

'But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,' he said.  

Are they safe? 

The nuclear reactors are shielded from the rest of the submarine in a separate section to protect the crew from dangerous radiation. 

The US has an excellent safety record with its nuclear-powered fleet although early Russian subs suffered a few accidents which caused 20 servicemen to die from radiation exposure between 1960 and 1985.

At the end of their 20-year lifetimes, the contaminated parts of nuclear reactors need to be disposed deep underground in special waste storage cells. 

Anti-nuclear campaigners say any leaks of radioactive waste could lead to an environmental disaster.  

Why now?

Australia needs to replace its six ageing Collins-class submarines. 

In 2016 it signed a deal with French Company Naval Group to build 12 diesel-electric attack subs - but the parties were in dispute over the amount of building that would be done in Australia.

That deal has now been torn up in favour of nuclear powered subs aided by the US and UK who will provide the technology to Australia.

The West is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region where it has made huge territorial claims in the South and East China seas, clashed with Indian troops and repeatedly flown planes over Taiwan. 

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