UK-France defence talks falter after Australia submarine pact fallout

The UK, US and Australia are scrambling to repair ties with France, which feels sidelined by new agreement

France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly has postponed a meeting with UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in London, amid the continuing fallout from the so-called Aukus defence agreement between the US, UK and Australia, announced last Wednesday.

The French are very unimpressed and the sight of Morrison, Biden and Johnson together will do little to repair ties
Professor Haydon Manning, Flinders University, South Australia

The UK and France had been in talks to strengthen defence ties after Britain’s exit from the EU, but no dates were announced for their resumption, the BBC reported.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday departed for Washington to meet leaders of the Quad grouping – an alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India – amid criticism over his government's decision to abandon a $40 billion submarine deal with France.

Australia last week said it would abandon a deal with France's Naval Group to acquire a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership.

France has said the relationship with Australia and the US is in "crisis" and has recalled its ambassadors from both countries.

While Australia has moved to dampen tensions, expressing its regret over the incident, Mr Morrison's meeting with fellow Quad leaders British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden threatens to inflame French irritation.

"The French are very unimpressed and the sight of Morrison, Biden and Johnson together will do little to repair ties," said Haydon Manning, a political-science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will also attend the leaders’ meeting of the Quad group later this week.

The Quad will discuss Covid-19, climate change and regional security, two sources familiar with the schedule told Reuters.

"This is all about ensuring that Australia's sovereign interests will be put first to ensure that Australians here can live peacefully with the many others in our region," Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney as he boarded the plane to Washington.

Morrison faces political trouble

New agreements furthering co-operation between the four countries are expected, but Australia will not announce strengthened climate targets sought by the US, one senior government source said.

Mr Morrison has rejected setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and is under pressure to do more before a UN climate summit in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.

The Australian leader is also facing growing pressure at home following the resignation of Christian Porter as minister for innovation and science, after he accepted an anonymous donation to partially fund his fees when he launched a defamation action against the nation's public broadcaster.

Mr Morrison had sought advice on whether the donation - which stoked concerns about how donors could seek influence over the minister - breached ministerial rules, but Porter resigned on Sunday.

The prime minister must return to the polls by May 2022 and a widely watched opinion poll on Monday showed the opposition centre-left Labor party on course to win power for the first time since 2013.

Updated: September 20th 2021, 8:51 AM