Emmanuel Macron previously lashed out at Britain, Australia, and the US’ plan to build submarines, with French officials refusing to engage with their counterparts across the Channel, due to his frustration at the new AUKUS deal. This week plans to expand the UK’s nuclear-powered submarine fleet was laid bare, with new Aukus vessels set to be based on British designs. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, along with his counterparts in the US and Australia, announced the plan, which many observers believe will help stem the threat posed by China.
The deal, which has been brewing for 18 months, will see the three nations stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” in order to protect the Indo-Pacific.
It will see new Aukus submarines become seaworthy by the late 2030s, with some created in the UK by firms BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
Insiders believe the new security pact will be hugely influential, particularly for Britain, and is seen as the nation’s most important similar agreement since 1958 when the country helped Washington become one of the few nuclear powers globally.
Australia expects to have submarines by the 2040s and will be only the seventh country on the planet to have such nuclear-powered vehicles.
Outsiders have been critical of the deal ever since it first emerged, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who condemned the proposals in November last year, arguing they could infuriate China and cause an escalation in tensions.
His remarks came prior to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand, and while he said Paris wanted to help Australia achieve “freedom and sovereignty”, Mr Macron also felt relations may be soured.
The Frenchman said his country was “helping and accompanying Australia in building a submarine fleet in-house, an industrial cooperation”, a day after talks between himself and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the G20 summit.
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However, Mr Macron added: “So it was both industrial cooperation and giving sovereignty to Australia, because they will maintain the submarines themselves, and it is not confrontational to China because they are not nuclear-powered submarines.
“But the choice made by (former) Prime Minister Scott Morrison was the opposite, re-entering into nuclear confrontation, making himself completely dependent by deciding to equip themselves (with a) submarine fleet that the Australians are incapable of producing and maintaining in-house.”
In 2020, relations between France and Australia dipped after the Pacific nation joined Aukus, a pact that itself was unexpected.
In a further blow to Paris, Canberra pulled the plug on its Future Submarine Program, which would have seen Australia buy 12 submarines from the country’s Naval Group, worth around €56billion (£49billion).
As a sweetener, Australia did pay around €555million (£485million) in compensation.
Mr Macron was at the time asked if Mr Morrison had “lied” to him when the cancellation had been made, to which the 45-year-old bluntly replied: “I don’t think, I know.”
He added: “The Aukus deal was very bad news for France — but not just for France, because I think it’s very bad news for the credibility of Australia and very bad news for the trust that great partners can have with the Australians.”
It wasn’t just Australia that was left feeling Mr Macron’s venom, as Britain was also on the receiving end when border officials working on the migrant crossing crisis stopped engaging in discussions because of the deal.
Britain’s head of Clandestine Channel Threat Command, Dan O’Mahoney, claimed that the issue, coupled with the “post-Brexit freeze”, saw tensions plummet to new lows. Although he later said that relations had gone from “strength to strength”.
Last year, he told the Telegraph that his equivalent did not speak with the UK because of the row, including when the number of small boats containing migrants hit its highest-ever level with 2,000 crossings each month.
He said: “I think I’ve been over [to France] 35 times personally, including all the way through lockdown. During that time we’ve experienced the post-Brexit freeze in the relationship starting to thaw.
“Then the Aukus submarine deal created another freeze at one point. My French counterpart didn’t speak to me for about three months. We came out the other side of that, and now we’re in this really great position where both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are really clearly and genuinely committed to the French relationship.”
News of the newly signed Aukus deal — that also sees Australia given eight nuclear submarines — will no doubt anger Beijing.
China has pushed back against the deal, writing last September to the International Atomic Energy Agency to block the deal. In a paper to the organisation, the Chinese government wrote: “The Aukus partnership involves the illegal transfer of nuclear weapon materials, making it essentially an act of nuclear proliferation.”