French President Emmanuel Macron called Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “a liar” as tensions between the two countries escalated despite diplomatic protocols in force while both leaders gathered at Rome for the G20 Summit.
The crisis between the two countries stems from a deal to purchase French-built conventional submarines which were halted after US and UK agents reportedly meddled so that Australia would finally choose nuclear technology from elsewhere.
France is also at odds with the UK due to fishing licenses in the English Channel not being granted by a post-Brexit deal that encompasses the entire European Union.
After these remarks, Morrison suggested Macron was not as blindsided over the cancelled submarine contract as he claims to be.
The escalation of tensions came at the conclusion of the G20 leader's summit in Rome when Macron was asked about Australia's decision in September to cancel the submarine contract with France’s Naval Group worth several billion dollars and instead pursue nuclear-powered subs using US technology.
Asked whether he thought Morrison had lied to him, Macron replied: “I don’t think, I know.”
“I have a lot of respect for your country, a lot of respect and friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true, and you have to behave in line and consistent with this value,” he added.
Australia last month cancelled a multi-billion dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and instead decided to acquire US nuclear-powered submarines. The decision was part of an Indo-Pacific pact between Australia, Britain and the US. The pact, known as AUKUS, infuriated France, which recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia over the lost deal. Macron and Morrison talked on Thursday for the first time since Australia cancelled the French submarine contract. They were both in Rome but did not hold a bilateral meeting.
Macron's combative mood is consistent with recent threats by France to bar British boats from some of its ports and tighten checks on boats and trucks carrying UK goods if more French vessels are not licensed to fish in UK waters by Tuesday. It has maintained its threat to impose sanctions starting Tuesday, which could include a blockade of British boats.
The ball is now in their court. If the British don't do any significant move, [retaliatory] measures starting from November 2 will need to be implemented, Macron stressed. I would deplore it. But what we cannot do is not respond and not defend our fishermen.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “was puzzled to read a letter from the French prime minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU.”