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It’s the new Trafalgar! French submarine row intensifies – Boris branded ‘spare wheel’

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Australian PM says France was pre-warned about submarine deal

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Australia scrapped a submarine order with Paris in favour of a deal with Washington and London last week. The move ignited fury of the French with Emmanuel Macron first recalling the country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia and then cancelling a meeting between Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart planned for this week.

The French were particularly angry at US President Joe Biden and Australian leader Scott Morrison for what they described as a “stab in the back”.

But, when addressing Britain’s role in the newly forged alliance, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was not surprised by the UK’s “permanent opportunism”.

He also branded Boris Johnson the “fifth wheel” in the diplomatic row, clarifying that he meant the UK Prime Minister is a “spare wheel”.

France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune also suggested the UK was the “junior partner” which had accepted its “vassalisation” by the US.

French daily Le Figaro said the spat is the equivalent of an “Indo-Pacific Trafalgar” in an article headed ‘Submarines: Biden torpedoes the Contract of the Century between France and Australia’.

The comments are likely to further exacerbate relations between France and the UK, already strained by Mr Macron’s hard stance in the Brexit negotiations.

The pact between the UK, US and Australia has been widely seen as an attempt to counter the growing military assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing swiftly denounced the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability.

Mr Johnson, however, said it was not intended as an “adversarial” move against China or any other power.

The Prime Minister will seek to smooth relations with France in the coming days, according to reports.

He told reporters: “We are very, very proud of our relationship with France.

“Our love of France is ineradicable.”

Britain and France are working on joint military operations in Mali and the Baltic states and are also working jointly on a simulated nuclear testing programme, he added.

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Mr Johnson also urged Emmanuel Macron not to “worry” about the new military alliance.

Mr Johnson insisted Britain and France have a “very friendly relationship”, which he described as being of “huge importance”.

He added: “AUKUS is not in any way meant to be zero-sum, it’s not meant to be exclusionary. It’s not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends.”

New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss touched down in New York alongside Mr Johnson as they both prepare to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Tuesday.

She launched a defence of the agreement, widely seen as a counter to increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the region, in an article for the Sunday Telegraph.

Ms Truss said Britain would always be a “fierce champion” of freedom and free enterprise around the world.

“It shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts,” she added

She will also attend the UN summit, where she will come into contact with the French, though the extent of any conversations was unclear.

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