French ambassador accuses Australia of deceit in submarine deal

Country abruptly cancelled multibillion dollar deal with Paris to build a fleet of submarines

France's ambassador to Australia has accused Canberra of deceiving his country when it abruptly cancelled a multibillion dollar deal with Paris to build a fleet of submarines.

Australia pulled out of the deal with France in September, instead agreeing to build at least 12 nuclear-powered submarines with the US and the UK.

"The deceit was intentional," Jean-Pierre Thebault said in the Australian capital on Wednesday.

"And because there was far more at stake than providing submarines, because it was a common agreement on sovereignty, sealed with the transmission of highly classified data, the way it was handled was a stab in the back."

The new alliance, called Aukus, is designed to give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

The decision has caused a major rift, with France recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the US in protest.

Mr Thebault returned to Canberra last month and his speech on Wednesday was the first time he spoke publicly on the bilateral relationship.

"These are not things which are done between partners – even less between friends," Mr Thebault said.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had lied to him about Canberra's intentions.

Mr Morrison has denied the claim and said he told Mr Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia's needs.

The two leaders spoke last week before the Australian leader publicly sought a handshake with his French counterpart at the G20 meeting.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden described the handling of the new pact as clumsy and said he thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the deal was announced.

Updated: November 3rd 2021, 9:34 AM