Britain’s defence minister has said he understands the disappointment of the French government and Naval Group at the loss of a major contract with Australia, but insisted it was not a ‘betrayal’ of Paris by the AUKUS partners.
Speaking on Thursday, Ben Wallace said that the UK had no strategic differences with France after Paris and French shipbuilder Naval Group were cut out of a deal to deliver submarines to Australia.
The AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact, announced by the countries’ leaders on Wednesday night, will see Australia procure conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines from their UK and US allies.
The agreement comes at the expense of Naval Group, whose 2016 deal with Australia will now be thrown out. It will be the first time the UK and US, both of which have operated nuclear submarines for decades, have shared nuclear technology for military purposes with Canberra.
“I understand France’s disappointment on its industrial contract,” but this is not a “betrayal,” Wallace told the BBC, confirming that he had already spoken with his French counterparts. Naval Group’s deal to build diesel-power vessels for Australia was reportedly worth $40 billion.
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Wallace said the deal would be worth a considerable amount to the British economy, echoing PM Boris Johnson’s talk of “levelling up” during his Wednesday night press conference with US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison.
“There will be a boost for the British defence industry in this collaboration because we have sub-systems that Australia doesn’t have that we will be able to offer into that,” Wallace told the BBC.
On Thursday, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the government will look to limit the financial damage to Naval Group following the contract’s cancellation and refused to rule out seeking compensation from Australia.“We are studying all avenues,” Parly told French radio station RFI. The Naval Group contract had been personally backed by French President Emmanuel Macron, although it is understood that complications had arisen in the past few years.
Wallace told Sky News on Thursday that the pact was looking to safeguard against a number of threats, dismissing the notion that it was aimed solely at China. He explained that nuclear submarines were harder to detect and don’t need to resurface.
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