Boris Johnson tells Emmanuel Macron to ‘get a grip’ and ‘donnez-moi un break’ over defence pact

French ambassador to return to Washington after Macron-Biden phone call eases spat

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 22 September 2021 17:52
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'Crisis of trust': France bristles at US submarine deal

Boris Johnson has told Emmanuel Macron to “get a grip” and “donnez-moi un break” after France’s furious reaction to the UK’s defence pact with the US and Australia.

His confrontational language came as Paris and Washington made efforts to mend relations, with Macron agreeing to return France’s ambassador to the US following a phone call with president Joe Biden.

In a joint statement, Macron and Biden said that they agreed the situation would have benefitted from “open consultations” between the Aukus trio and France ahead of the announcement of the new partnership on 15 September.

Paris branded last week’s Aukus agreement a “stab in the back” because it involved Canberra ditching a 56bn euro deal for French diesel-electric submarines, in favour of nuclear-powered vessels from the US.

French ambassadors were recalled from Washington and Canberra, and a senior minister in the Macron administration said that the same response was not meted out to London only because Britain was a “junior partner” in the deal.

Mr Johnson earlier this week tried to soothe French anger by insisting that Macron had no reason to worry about the Aukus deal and declaring his “ineradicable” love and admiration for Britain’s cross-Channel neighbour.

But speaking in Washington today, he took a more confrontational line, expressing irritation with the French stance.

Breaking into Franglais in a way which might have calculated to offend Gallic pride, the prime minister said: “I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break.

“Because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder to shoulder creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology. It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial towards China for instance.”

His comments won a scathing response from former ambassador to France and national security adviser Peter Ricketts, who said they were likely to antagonise Paris further.

“Words fail me,” said Lord Ricketts. “How is mocking the French going to help anything?”

Ahead of today’s phone call, Elysée spokesman Gabriel Attal said France was expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”.

He added: “We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”

Macron and Biden later announced they had agreed “to open a process of in-depth consultations aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives”. Mr Biden acknowledged the “strategic importance” of French and EU engagement in the Indo-Pacific and the value of a “stronger and more capable European defence”.

The call marked an easing of tensions in what has been the deepest rift in years between France and its three Anglophone allies.

Paris was given virtually no notice of the trilateral announcement on 15 September, which dealt a heavy blow to France’s security strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, where it has territories in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the Wallis & Futuna islands.

Mr Macron was reported in the French press to be “furious”, and foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian characterised the Australian contract breach as a “betrayal”.

And he explained France’s first ever withdrawal of its ambassador to the US by saying: “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the  announcements”

The snap cancellation of the submarine contract constituted “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners”, said Le Drian.

Meanwhile, Macron’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said that the new alliance reflected the UK accepting the role of US lapdog following Brexit.

“As you can see, it is a return to the American fold and accepting a form of vassal status,” he said in a TV interview.

“Global Britain seems to be more about [being] a junior partner of the US than working with different allies.”

On Monday, Mr Johnson attempted to calm troubled waters in response.

“We are very, very proud of our relationship with France and it is of huge importance to this country,” he told reporters travelling with him to the United Nations in New York.

“It is a very friendly relationship - an entente cordiale - that goes back a century or more and is absolutely vital for us.”

Mr Johnson said the UK works “shoulder to shoulder” with France in Nato’s mission to the Baltic states, as well as in operations in the west African state of Mali and in joint simulations of nuclear weapons tests.

“British troops and French troops are side by side,” he said. “There are no two sets of armed forces that are more capable of integration together and working side by side.

“This is something that goes very, very deep. Our love of France, our admiration of France is ineradicable.”

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