France warns Australia it cannot act as if nothing happened as submarine row heats up

Von der Leyen slams 'unacceptable' treatment of France

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Mr Beaune told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels: “Our relations are very difficult. We cannot act as if nothing happened. We need to look into all options.” Mr Beaune welcomed support from EU foreign ministers at a meeting late on Monday, stressing that this an EU matter, rather than just a French problem.

It comes as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he will not speak with the French president at the United Nations this week even though French anger over cancellation of a $40 billion defence contract could threaten an Australian-EU trade deal.

Australia last week scrapped a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership with those two countries.

The cancellation of the deal has angered France, which accused both Australia and the United States of stabbing it in the back, and it recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.

While US President Joe Biden has sought to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron to ease tensions, Morrison said he would not hold a separate bilateral meeting with the French leader.

“There is not an opportunity for that at this time. I’m sure that opportunity will come in time,” Mr Morrison told reporters in New York when asked if he would speak to Macron on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

European Union countries expressed solidarity with France on Monday in a show of unity seen as threatening Australia’s bid for a free trade deal with the bloc.

Australia and the EU are set to hold the next round of talks on a trade deal on Oct 12.

Australian Minister for Trade Dan Tehan on Monday said he expected those talks to go ahead as scheduled despite the French disappointment.

But Mr Morrison sought to temper expectations that a deal will materialise. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to get an agreement with the European Union on trade, I think everyone understands that,” he said.

While Australia struggles to mend ties with Europe, the nuclear-powered submarines issue has also divided Canberra’s Asian allies and angered China and North Korea.

Indonesia and Malaysia have said Australia risks igniting an arms race, though the Philippines on Tuesday said it supported Canberra’s nuclear submarine deal as it would help bring stability to the region.

“The enhancement of a near-abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilise it,” Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said in a statement.

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Mr Morrison will meet Biden and European leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York before travelling to Washington for a meeting of the quadrilateral security dialogue, made up of India, Japan, the United States and Australia – which convenes later this week.

Yesterday the UK’s the Defence Secretary claimed the Britain and France are “joined at the hip” as he insisted there was “no sneakiness behind the back” over a lucrative submarines contract.

Ben Wallace sought to play down suggestions of a rift between the two nations, despite his French counterpart Florence Parly postponing a meeting with him as the international fallout from the contract row continues.

France has been left fuming after the UK, US and Australia agreed a new pact, known as Aukus, which includes the development of nuclear-powered submarines, a deal which tore up an agreement for Paris to supply Sydney with diesel-electric boats.

Mr Wallace and Ms Parly had been due to hold a bilateral meeting and address an event held by the Franco-British Council.

A spokesman for the Franco-British Council said: “The defence conference planned for September 23 has been postponed to a later date.

“The Franco-British Council regularly brings together the defence community in France and the UK and we look forward to holding our rearranged conference when a new date has been agreed.”

A defence source told the PA news agency that “the meeting is postponed, not cancelled” and highlighted the strength of the UK military relationship with “trusted allies” France, including operations in Mali and complex weapons development.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Wallace said Australia had exercised its “right to choose” by forming a partnership with the UK and US.

He told MPs: “The United States and France are our closest allies.

“The United States is the cornerstone of Nato by far outspending and out-contributing than any other European nation on that security.

“It has been the guarantor of European security for decades and we should not forget that.

“When it comes towards France, I have an extremely close relationship with my French counterpart, I have met her only a month or two ago, I had dinner with her in Paris even months before that.

“We speak regularly.

“Britain and France, on many issues, are joined at the hip, complex weapons, counter-terrorism, both west and east Africa issues, and indeed more recently in places like Iraq and Syria.

“There is absolutely no intent here by the United Kingdom Government to slight, upset or drive a wedge between us and France.

“It may be that MPs would like to listen to the media but the fundamentals are that we have more in common than we have differing us, there was no sneakiness behind the back, it was fundamentally Australia’s right to choose a different capability and it did.”

SNP defence spokesman Stewart Malcolm McDonald earlier argued “Paris was deceived” over Aukus.

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