British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged France to “get a grip” after Paris spent days reacting furiously to being sidelined by a new security pact brokered between the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.
Johnson on Wednesday praised the trio’s agreement, which led to Australia scrapping a multibillion-dollar deal with France to build conventional submarines, as a “fundamentally great step forward for global security”.
Australia will instead acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology as part of the new trilateral security deal for the Indo-Pacific region, dubbed AUKUS.
“It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder to shoulder creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology,” Johnson told reporters in Washington, DC.
“I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez moi un break,” he added, using the French expression for “get a grip” and a mixture of French and English to mean “give me a break”.
Johnson said the pact was “not exclusive” and dismissed suggestions it was an attempt to counter the growing influence wielded by China.
“I find it very hard to see in this agreement anything not to like,” he said.
Johnson’s remarks came after France recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia last week, saying it was blindsided by Canberra’s move to develop submarines with the US and UK rather than stick with its 2016 contract for French diesel vessels.
No such step was followed for London, with France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, suggesting that was because the UK was a “junior partner” to the deal and subordinate to Washington on foreign policy issues post-Brexit.
French defence minister Florence Parly did however pull out of scheduled talks with her British counterpart, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, which had been set to take place in London this week.
US, UK and Australian officials have attempted to ease France’s anger by reassuring Paris that it remains a vital ally.
US President Joe Biden and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone on Wednesday for the first time since the spat began.
The Elysee Palace and the White House said in a joint statement that the two leaders had agreed to meet at the end of next month and that France would send its ambassador back to Washington next week.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence”, the statement said.