A Franco-British summit of defense ministers scheduled to take place this week has been called off as Paris intensifies protests over the loss of a £ 48bn submarine contract with Australia and its secret replacement by UK and US nuclear technology.
Ben Wallace, the British Secretary of Defense, and his counterpart Florence Parly were to hold a bilateral meeting in London and address the two-day Franco-British Council, now the last victims of the diplomatic row.
The council was also to bring together the defense chiefs of the two countries, the two largest military powers in Western Europe. Former UK national security adviser, co-chair Peter Ricketts, confirmed that the elite rally had been “postponed to a later date”.
Without the event continuing, it is understood that Parly’s planned trip to London is deemed to have become superfluous.
Earlier today, British sources said they hoped the meetings would continue. “We have a strong and close defense partnership with the French as trusted allies,” said one, listing joint counterterrorism operations like in Mali and Iraq as examples of the relationship between the two. .
But Paris is furious after Australia abandons a lucrative but troubled contract for new diesel submarines with a French contractor to switch to the nuclear alternative after six months of secret negotiations with the UK and the US .
France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia over the weekend, plunging relations between the countries to an almost unheard of level. The cancellation of the defense summit demonstrates that there will also be repercussions for the UK, which could worsen further as the feud continues.
Concern over the French reaction also prompted Joe Biden to ask to speak to Frenchman Emmanuel Macron in an attempt to settle the dispute.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said: “President Biden has requested to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the coming days between President Macron and President Biden. “
The escalating dispute also threatens to overshadow a trip to the United States by Boris Johnson and his new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The two will visit the United Nations General Assembly, while Johnson is expected to visit the White House for the first time as prime minister to meet with Biden.
Although Macron was not due to attend the annual meeting of world leaders, Truss will have to face his foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
Le Drian, considered close to Macron, denounced the agreement on the submarines, describing it as a “stab in the back” and accusing those involved of engaging in “duplicity, contempt and lies” during the last few months.
France is particularly unhappy that in bilateral and other meetings in recent months ministers from the three countries have given no indication of what was planned, with some diplomatic sources claiming that the feeling of anger and betrayal in Paris was always underestimated.
British defense sources argued that it was up to the Australians to break the news to the French, but it seemed there were divisions in Canberra over how best to go about it.
“Some Australians wanted to call a week and say we’re so sorry, we put the diesel sub contract, and call next week and say we just want you to know we’ve found a better sub and that he’s British, ”the defense source said. “There was another school of thought that said, don’t do it like that. They will see through it and it will be worse because it will look deceptive.
In the end, neither team won. The French were not notified until details began to leak to Australian and US media on Wednesday morning.
The UK has argued it is simply responding to a request from Australia to research covert nuclear propulsion technology for its submarines in March this year, a technology shared between Britain and the United States. United under a defense agreement dating back to 1958.
The defense source said that after securing British support, the Australians then surrendered to the Biden administration.
But the claim of relative British passivity is undermined by other Downing Street briefings, which said Johnson was anxious to expand the nuclear submarine deal to something deeper in the wake of the Brexit.
The three countries also announced Aukus, a defense technology pact, in which they confirmed they would work together to share advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The nuclear propulsion deal was the first example, the three said.