New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has defended the UK’s “hard-headed” security pact with the US and Australia, amid a deepening diplomatic row with France.
The AUKUS deal saw the UK, Australia and the US form a security pact to develop and deploy a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, adding to the Western military presence in the Pacific region.
Ms Truss said the agreement showed Britain’s readiness to be “hard-headed in defending our interests”, adding that it could result in hundreds of new jobs.
France was outraged by the deal which sees them losing out on a £30bn contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia, who opted for nuclear-powered subs provided by Britain and the US.
In response, they recalled their ambassadors to the US and Australia, although there was no similar order to return to Paris for the French envoy to London.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Truss made no mention of the diplomatic stand-off with the French.
Earlier, however, a French minister scornfully referred to the UK as the “junior partner” in the trilateral agreement and accused it of returning to hide in the “American lap”.
It comes after Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, referenced the omission of UK from the ambassador recall.
He wrote on Twitter: “You can interpret the omission of the UK as a sign of conciliation or contempt. Your choice.”
In her article, Ms Truss said the agreement, widely seen as a counter to increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the region, underlined the UK’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
She said Britain would always be a “fierce champion” of freedom and that the agreement illustrates the nation’s commitment to “challenging unfair practices and malign acts”.
“Freedoms need to be defended, so we are also building strong security ties around the world,” she wrote.
“That is why last week the prime minister announced, alongside our friends President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison, the creation of a new security partnership called AUKUS.
“It shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts.”
On Saturday, the president of the French National Assembly told Sky News that the bonds of friendship between France and the UK, US and Australia have been “tarnished” by the AUKUS pact.
Speaking while attending the G7 Speakers’ Conference in Chorley, Lancashire, Richard Ferrand said: “I think it has somewhat tarnished the bonds of friendship that we have. Yes, it has made things more difficult in terms of trust and friendship.”
Pressed on why Catherine Colonna, the top French diplomat in the UK was not recalled, Mr Ferrand said: “Obviously it was not my decision but we thought it was more important to recall the ambassadors of the two main protagonists in this thing.”
Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, has suggested the AUKUS agreement threatens the “coherence and unity of the West”.
In the Commons on Thursday, Boris Johnson sought to smooth over the differences, insisting relations with France remained “rock solid” while Downing Street described Paris as “a close ally and friend” of the UK.
Nevertheless, the prime minister also made clear he expected the agreement to bring “hundreds” of highly-skilled jobs to Britain – jobs which may well have otherwise gone to France.
Ms Truss said the deal could “create hundreds of new and high-skilled jobs, from the shipyards of Govan to the factories of Tyneside”.
The French were reportedly given just a few hours’ notice of the new agreement ahead of what is expected to be a tough election year for Mr Macron.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the snub was a “stab in the back” and constituted “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners”.
The pact between the UK, US and Australia has been widely seen as an attempt to counter the growing military assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing swiftly denounced the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability.
Mr Johnson, however, said it was not intended as an “adversarial” move against China or any other power.