Australian prime minister Scott Morrison deployed a cricket term to accuse French president Emmanuel Macron of insulting his country, as a war of words continued between the two over a cancelled $66bn (£48.3bn) submarine deal.
Mr Morrison said he would not tolerate the “sledging of Australia” on Monday. Sledging is a term used in cricket to describe the deliberate insulting of an opposition batsman in order to put them off and gain a sporting advantage in the game.
His response came a day after Mr Macron accused the Australian prime minister of lying to him about the deal and said his trust in Canberra has been deeply damaged.
“I must say that I think the statements that were made questioning Australia’s integrity and the slurs that have been placed on Australia, not me — I’ve got broad shoulders, I can deal with that — but those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia,” said Mr Morrison.
“I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians. Australia has a proud record when it comes to our defence capability,” he added.
Diplomatic ties between Australia and France nosedived after the former country withdrew from a $66bn (£48.3bn) deal with France to build 12 diesel-powered submarines.
The country instead opted to ink a defence pact with the UK and the US on 15 September, dubbed the Aukus deal.
Australia faced criticism over the trilateral security arrangement, seen as a strategic deal to counter China.
The deal infuriated France, with the country’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian describing Australia’s move as a “stab in the back”. Paris said it was blindsided by Canberra and recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the US for some time.
The two leaders met for the first time after Australia pulled out of the deal on the side lines of the G20 summit in Rome over the weekend.
When asked if he thought Mr Morrison lied to him about the deal, Mr Macron said: “I don’t think, I know.”
“I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line, and consistently, with this value,” he added.
Mr Morrison denied lying and responded with his remarks on Monday, further escalating the row.
He claimed that France was aware that Australia was contemplating withdrawing from the troubled submarine contract, adding that he was clear about his intentions with France.
Mr Morrison also said the diesel-powered submarines were not meeting Australia’s needs.
The Australian prime minister had in June publicly warned the French government about the lack of progress on the project and said that he had “candid talks” with Mr Macron.
He had conveyed to him that the project should have a September deadline to submit reworked designs of the submarine fleet.
US president Joe Biden attempted to intervene and repair the relationship between Mr Morrison and Mr Macron by saying that the Aukus announcement was a “clumsy” episode and that Washington handled it with a lack of grace.
“I think, what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy,” Mr Biden said. “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before,” he added.
When Mr Morrison was asked on Monday why an important ally like Mr Macron was not given a heads up before the deal, Mr Morrison said: “This was a highly secure decision, a highly secure environment over which we had held these things incredibly tightly... for more than a year.”
He said he tried to speak to Mr Macron on phone before the announcement of the Aukus pact but he was not available to take a call.
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