'Fooled': Recalled French ambassador's fury over Australia's sub pact

‘We felt fooled’: Recalled French ambassador reveals he only learned about Australia’s new submarine pact AFTER it hit the headlines, as the country calls for compensation for being ousted from the $90bn deal

  • Jean-Pierre Thebault was ordered to return to Paris by furious Emmanuel Macron
  • Ambassador claims France was blindsided by the new alliance with UK and US
  • Thebault said ‘we felt fooled’ after reports of Aukus alliance hit the headlines 
  • It means Canberra will get new nuclear submarine tech from Britain and the US
  • PM Scott Morrison tore up existing contract with the French worth AU$90billion
  • Now Macron is looking at compensation – estimated at AU$405 million 

French fury over Australia’s decision to tear up its AU$90billion submarine contract in favour of a deal with the US and the UK continued to boil over today as the ambassador revealed he felt ‘fooled’ and ‘kept in the dark.’ 

Jean-Pierre Thebault was ordered to quit his residence in Canberra and return to Paris by a furious Emmanuel Macron who has been blindsided by the new Aukus military alliance. 

Part of this strategic ‘forever partnership’ involves the sharing of nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia, prompting Scott Morrison to shred the existing contract with France. 

Thebault told an Australian radio station on Monday: ‘We discover through [the] press that the most important person of this Australian government kept us in the dark intentionally until the last minute …

‘So you can imagine our anger – we felt fooled.’

The envoy added: ‘This is not an Australian attitude towards France. And maybe we’re not friends.’ 

Now Macron is looking at how Morrison can be made to pay, with Australian media estimating penalties of up to AU$405 million. 

‘Obviously there will be a need for compensation,’ Gabriel Attal, a spokesperson for Macron, told French broadcaster BFM on Sunday.

‘This is the work that will be done now because we need clarification. We need to exchange with our partners to see how they intend to leave this contract since there are clauses which have been signed, there is a whole procedure which has been foreseen,’ he said.  

France’s Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault gestures as he arrives at Sydney Airport, Saturday

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and U.S. President Joe Biden bump elbows

He did not provide details on how much money Paris expected from the cancellation of the deal for the diesel-electric submarines, in favour of the nuclear-powered technology provided by Britain and the US. 

Australian press estimate that French company Naval Group could expect to recieve 250million euros (£214million, $290 million). 

Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States on Friday in protest at the axing of the deal which had been 18 months in the making. 

Morrison claims that he had raised ‘issues’ with France ‘many months ago.’

‘There had been a range of issues earlier in the contract and throughout the contract that we had continued, we had discussed on numerous occasions,’ he said on Sunday.

‘But, ultimately, this was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built, at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do when they went into service.

‘And, our strategic judgment, based on the best possible intelligence and defence advice, was that it would not. And, so, therefore, to go forward, when we were able to secure a supreme submarine capability to support our defence operations, it would have been negligent for us not to.’

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payn’s office issued a statement responding to the recall of the ambassador and noted Canberra’s ‘regret’ over its ally’s withdrawal of its representative.

‘Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,’ the statement said. It added that Australia values its relationship with France and looked forward to future engagements together.

Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their U.S. counterparts and their first with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The deal scraps a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract with French majority state-owned Naval Group, signed in 2016, to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines

Thebault, the French Ambassador to Australia has been recalled to Paris, over the surprise cancellation of a submarine contract between Australia and France

Thebault on Saturday described as a ‘huge mistake’ Australia’s surprise cancellation of a major submarine contract in favor of a U.S. deal

Before he was recalled, French envoy Thebault said on Friday he found out about the U.S. submarine deal: ‘Like everybody, thanks to the Australian press.’

‘We never were informed about any substantial changes,’ Thebault said. ‘There were many opportunities and many channels. Never was such a change mentioned.’

After the U.S. deal was made public this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he told French President Emanuel Macron in June that there were ‘very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability’ would address Australia´s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific. 

Morrison has not specifically referred to China’s massive military buildup which had gained pace in recent years.

Morrison was in Paris on his way home from a Group of Seven nations summit in Britain where he had talks with soon-to-be-alliance partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he had also been at the meeting with Macron and Morrison.

Morrison mentioned ‘there were changes in the regional situation,’ but gave no indication that Australia was considering changing to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault speaks during a TV interview in Canberra, Australia

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington

France’s Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault arrives at Sydney Airport, Saturday

‘Everything was supposed to be done in full transparency between the two partners,’ he added.

Thebault said difficulties the project had encountered were normal for its scale and large transfers of technologies.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that recalling the two ambassadors, on request from Macron, ‘is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements’ made by Australia and the United States.

Le Drian said Australia´s decision to scrap the submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology is ‘unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.’

Senior opposition lawmaker Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to fix its relationship with France.

‘The impact on our relationship with France is a concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region,’ Dreyfus said.

‘The French were blindsided by this decision and Mr. Morrison should have done much more to protect the relationship,’ he added.

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