France cancels defence summit with UK in protest at Aukus submarine deal

French armed forces minister pulls out of meeting with defence secretary Ben Wallace

Peter Stubley
Monday 20 September 2021 00:32

France says new Aukus partnership a ‘stab in the back’

France has cancelled a summit with defence secretary Ben Wallace in protest at the submarine deal between Australia, Britain and the US, according to reports.

Florence Parly, the French minister of the armed forces, personally took the decision to drop the bilateral meeting that was due to be held in London this week, sources told Reuters.

The postponement of the Franco-British Council – which would have been addressed by Ms Parly during her visit – was also confirmed to the Guardian by Peter Ricketts, the organisation’s co-chair.

It follows the decision by Australia to scrap a multi-billion pound submarine deal with France in favour of a new Aukus security partnership with America and Britain.

France reacted to the announcement by recalling its ambassadors to Canberra and Washington, while foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the move as “a stab in the back” and accused Australia of “lies and duplicity”.

However the French ambassador to the UK was not recalled and British officials appear to have hoped the London meeting would still go ahead.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the reports that the meeting had been called off.

US president Joe Biden will speak to Emmanuel Macron about the issue during a call “in the next few days”, a French government spokesperson said on Sunday.

France will also be seeking “clarification” from Australia over the cancellation of the submarine deal, including discussions over compensation, spokesperson Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison defended his decision to ditch the submarine deal with France and claimed that concerns had been flagged months ago.

“I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first,” Mr Morrison said at a briefing on Sunday.

“This is an issue that had been raised by me directly some months ago and we continued to talk those issues through, including by defence ministers and others.”

China has also criticised the Aukus partnership, accusing Australia, the UK and the US of being stuck in a “cold war mentality” and showing “ideological prejudice”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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