Liz Truss defies EU backlash over submarine pact with vow to fight for freedom

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Liz Truss (bottom row, fourth from right) and the rest of Boris Johnson's new Cabinet - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
Liz Truss (bottom row, fourth from right) and the rest of Boris Johnson's new Cabinet - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

The new Foreign Secretary has waded into a major diplomatic row over Britain’s new security pact with the US and Australia, insisting that “freedoms need to be defended”.

Writing in The Telegraph, Liz Truss states that the Aukus agreement “shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts”, in a thinly veiled reference to China’s growing military prowess and aggressive approach to trade.

The intervention, Ms Truss’s first as Foreign Secretary, came amidst a fierce EU backlash against the trilateral partnership, which France described as “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners”, as Emmanuel Macron withdrew the country’s ambassadors from Washington DC and Canberra.

Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, suggested that the new Aukus partnership threatened the “coherence and unity of the West”.

The French government is furious at Australia’s cancellation of a £72.8 billion deal to buy diesel-electric submarines, in favour of nuclear-powered technology provided by Britain and the US.

On Saturday, Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, described Britain as a “junior partner” in the arrangement, claiming that the UK had participated in the partnership “opportunistically” as a way to prove its place in the world post-Brexit.

In the latest French attack on Britain, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the country’s foreign minister, said Paris opted against recalling its ambassador to London because France was familiar with the UK’s “permanent opportunism”. He claimed Mr Johnson was the “fifth wheel on the carriage”.

Speaking to France 2 television, Mr Le Drian gave no indication Paris was prepared to let the crisis die down, using distinctly undiplomatic language towards Australia, the US and Britain.

"There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt," Mr Le Drian said. "This will not do."

He described the withdrawal of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries as a "very symbolic" act that aimed "to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis between us".

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday that the French government would have known Canberra had "deep and grave concerns" about French submarines before the deal was torn up last week.

"I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack Class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest," he said.

"Of course it's a matter of great disappointment to the French government, so I understand their disappointment. But at the same time, Australia like any sovereign nation, must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interest."

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said Australia had been raising concerns with France over the order for a couple of years.

"Suggestions that the concerns hadn't been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what's on the public record and certainly what they've said publicly over a long period of time," Mr Dutton said.

Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham again insisted his country had informed the French government "at the earliest available opportunity, before it became public".

Dominic Raab, Ms Truss’s predecessor, is understood to have helped broker the deal despite warnings that it could damage relations with China and France.

Details were hammered out at June’s G7 summit in Carbis Bay, unknown to the French president. In Whitehall, papers relating to the deal were marked “top secret” and discussions held in the Cabinet Office’s COBR rooms.

Writing as Boris Johnson and herself are prepared to fly to the US on Sunday evening, Ms Truss states that Britain is positioning itself “at the heart of a network of economic, diplomatic and security partnerships” as she pledges that this weekend will see “the start of an autumn where Global Britain plants its flag on the world stage”.

Addressing the controversial deal, the Foreign Secretary states: “Freedoms need to be defended, so we are also building strong security ties around the world. That is why last week the Prime Minister announced, alongside our friends President Biden and Prime Minister Morrison, the creation of a new security partnership called Aukus.”

Britain was “partnering with like-minded countries to build coalitions based on shared values and shared interests” and the deal could “create hundreds of new and high-skilled jobs, from the shipyards of Govan to the factories of Tyneside”, she said.

Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison pose with Australian goods - Andrew Parsons /10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison pose with Australian goods - Andrew Parsons /10 Downing Street

This week, Mr Johnson is expected to meet Joe Biden at the White House, when he and Ms Truss travel to the US for the UN General Assembly in New York. The Prime Minister intends to use the trip to rally support for action on climate change ahead of November’s Cop26 summit.

However, amidst frosty relations with China, The Telegraph understands that UK officials now believe it is highly unlikely that Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, will attend, in a blow to Britain’s ambitions for the summit.

Aukus deal ‘shows commitment to security in Indo-Pacific’

Ms Truss’s article is likely to increase French anger at the deal with the US and Australia. It highlights the benefits of involvement in the deal.

She says that the agreement “shows our commitment to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The Prime Minister highlighted the vital strategic importance of that region when he set out his vision for Global Britain... earlier this year”.

Wednesday’s announcement, of which France was only given several hours’ notice, came a day before the EU set out a strategy to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific.

In Britain, work on the deal was carried out by a group of about half a dozen ministers, aides and officials, including Mr Raab, who was said to have been “disappointed” not to see it through.

He was moved to the Ministry of Justice hours before the announcement on Wednesday evening. Ms Truss is understood to have been briefed on the agreement shortly after her appointment.

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