Get a grip, British PM tells France, snub for Australia

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told France to get a grip and give allies in the United States and Australia a break over a row about a trilateral nuclear submarine deal that tore up a separate French contract.

The new defence partnership between Britain, the United States and Australia was announced last week and will give Canberra access to nuclear powered submarine technology.

France accused US President Joe Biden of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Australia ditched a defence contract with Paris for the purchase of conventional submarines.

Paris recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia, but it has snubbed Britain. It has not mentioned London in any public communication and officials have privately said London's role was "smoke and mirrors".

Speaking a day after he met Biden in Washington, Johnson told reporters on Wednesday: "I just think it's time for some of our dearest friends around the world to 'prenez un grip' about all this, 'donnez-moi un break', because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security."

He was translating the English phrases 'get a grip' and 'give me a break' literally into French.

"It is not trying to shoulder anybody out, it is not adversarial towards China, for instance, it is there to intensify links and friendship between three countries," he said.

Anger 

The comments are likely to further fuel Paris' anger. Two diplomatic sources said there had been instructions to limit contacts with Britain in the immediate term.

"'Global Britain', it seems, is aimed at projecting Britain around the world, while marginalising Europe. We can’t accept that," said one French diplomatic source, referring to a slogan used by Johnson to describe the United Kingdom's ambitions following Brexit.

Britain's role in pushing the new partnership appears to have been bigger than initially thought, officials have said, with the deal taking shape during a summit of G7 leaders in Cornwall in June that President Emmanuel Macron also attended.

"It’s true that going back on a commitment made and the word he gave is something that Boris Johnson finds hard to see why that would be a problem," Nathalie Loiseau, former French Europe minister and European lawmaker, said on Twitter.

"This is the whole problem, however, when one claims to want an international order based on rules and relationships based on trust."

Highlighting the sense of anger felt in Paris - and in a rare reaction of its kind - Macron's office flatly denied a report published on Wednesday in Britain's Daily Telegraph saying the president was willing to give up France's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in exchange for the formation of a European Union army.

Neither France's foreign ministry nor the French presidency was available for comment.

Australia can't get meeting with France

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has tried to arrange a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron but has been unsuccessful so far, a week after his cancellation of the major submarine deal.

Morrison, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, said he would be patient in rebuilding ties with France.

Paris has recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, saying it was blindsided by Australia's decision to build nuclear-powered submarines with the United States and Britain rather than stick with its contract for French diesel submarines.

Macron and US President Joe Biden spoke by telephone on Wednesday to smooth relations, and France said its ambassador would return to Washington next week.

However Morrison, who is in the US for a series of meetings this week, said he had tried to arrange his own call with the French President but had not yet been successful.

"Yes, we have. And the opportunity for that call is not yet. But we'll be patient," Morrison said after meeting US lawmakers to discuss the submarine deal and a new security alliance with the United States and Britain dubbed AUKUS.

Morrison said he understood France's disappointment and noted the cancellation of the submarine contract, initially valued at $US40 billion ($NZ57 billion) and more recently at $US60 billion, meant the issues were different to those between Washington and Paris, and they would take more time to work through.

"I look forward and when the time is right and when the opportunity presents that we will have a similar discussion," he said.

Morrison said both the deal for Australia to establish a nuclear-powered submarine fleet and the new Australia, Britain, US tripartite security alliance had received bipartisan support during his meetings with US lawmakers and officials. 

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