UK says relations with France strong despite sub deal anger

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that Britain’s relationship with France is “ineradicable,” despite fury in Paris over a U.S.-U.K.-Australia submarine deal.

A meeting between French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart, Ben Wallace, has been postponed as the agreement roils relations between France and major allies.

The two had been due to meet and address a meeting organized this week by the Franco-British Council. Peter Ricketts, the council’s co-chairman, told The Guardian on Monday that the meeting had been “postponed to a later date.”

The submarine deal, announced last week, will see Australia cancel a contract to buy diesel-electric French subs and acquire nuclear-powered vessels from the U.S. instead. The U.S., Australia and Britain say the deal bolsters their commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and has widely been seen as a move to counter an increasingly assertive China.

The French government appears to have been blindsided by the agreement. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called it a “stab in the back,” and France recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, a highly unusual move among allies.

France did not, however, recall its envoy to London. French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Britain, the third player in the “AUSUK ” deal, was a “junior partner” and a vassal of the U.S.

Johnson said U.K.-France relations were “very friendly” despite the diplomatic turmoil.

“Our love of France is ineradicable,” Johnson told reporters traveling with him to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. “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.”

British officials have stressed the close military ties between the U.K. and France, including joint operations in Mali and Estonia.

U.K. Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said Monday that “all bilateral relationships go through periods of tension.”

“On a personal level, I have absolutely no doubt that, ultimately, our relationship with France will endure,” he told the BBC. “But this (submarine deal) is about making sure that we have a really strong defense relationship with two very, very important defense partners.”