A French minister has accused Britain of returning to the “American lap” in the increasingly bitter diplomatic row over the UK’s new defence pact with the US and Australia.
Paris reacted with fury after the Australians announced that as a result of the agreement, they were pulling out of a £30 billion deal for the French to supply them with a new fleet of submarines.
Instead, the Australian navy is to acquire a more capable fleet of nuclear-powered – although not nuclear-armed – vessels with US and UK assistance.
The announcement prompted President Emmanuel 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.
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 its “vassalisation” by 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.
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.
Beijing swiftly denounced the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability.
Mr Johnson, however, said it was not intended as an “adversarial” move against China or any other power.