French officials dismiss UK as bit player in submarine spat

PARIS — While France has seethed with rage at Australia and the U.S. over a secretly negotiated military pact, it has expressed a different attitude — dismissiveness — toward the deal’s other partner: Britain.

Over the weekend, several French officials downplayed the U.K.’s role in the landmark deal, which led Australia to cancel a billion-euro submarine deal with France, even suggesting they expected such behavior from the Brits.

“Great Britain in this matter is a bit of a fifth wheel on the carriage,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told TV channel France 2 Saturday evening.

Indeed, the U.K. has so far been the least-involved player in an escalating diplomatic war of words over the new arrangement, despite playing a reportedly significant part in the negotiations.

After Australia axed its submarine contract with France’s Naval Group, worth more than €50 billion, Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the U.S. in protest — but not the French envoy to the U.K.

Le Drian explained France’s decision by hinting that London had merely been a bystander in the military deal and therefore was not worth Paris’ wrath. “We know their constant opportunism,” he said, referring to the U.K.

The cynical rhetoric comes amid a backdrop of already-soured relations between Paris and London, mainly because of Brexit.

According to a column in the French paper Le Monde, Paris has a political and diplomatic interest in downplaying London’s part in the military deal — it helps minimize the U.K.’s pro-Brexit rhetoric. In private, French officials have derided the U.K. as an interloper in the new trilateral partnership, desperately trying to show it had global diplomatic sway post Brexit.

French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune — who didn’t shy away in the past from slamming the U.K. and Brexit on Twitter — also dismissed the Brits on television, saying that by leaving the EU, they “returned to the American fold” as Washington’s willing vassals.

U.K. officials have so far been less vocal than their Australian counterparts during the deal’s fallout.

On Sunday, newly appointed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the security partnership was about “delivering for people across the U.K. and beyond by partnering with like-minded countries to build coalitions based on shared values and shared interests.” But the reference was mostly made in passing in a broader op-ed.



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