Prime Minister suggests there is scope to deepen Aukus pact beyond submarines

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Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have risked further enraging French president Emmanuel Macron by discussing deepening their new military pact with Australia.

The Prime Minister told Mr Macron he should “prenez un grip” and give him a “break” and described how both he and the US president were “taken aback” by the reaction from Paris.

Mr Johnson ruled out allowing France to join the Australia-UK-US pact in order to calm tensions, resulting in France recalling ambassadors and postponing high-level meetings.

Dubbed Aukus, the agreement led Sydney to pursue the development of nuclear-powered submarines at the expense of a lucrative deal with France to provide diesel-electric boats.

The day after his meeting with Mr Biden in the White House, Mr Johnson told reporters there was scope for the agreement to extend beyond submarines, particularly on technology.

He raised the example of Huawei, with the Chinese firm’s technology being stripped from UK mobile networks “at a colossal expense”.

“What we need is a Western technology on which we can rely, and the fact is the Chinese are ahead on some of these technologies,” Mr Johnson said on an Amtrak train to New York.

“What the Americans and Australians want to do with us is to try and recapture the Western lead in some of these areas, and work together on that. So on cyber, on AI, there are plenty of ways in which we want to co-operate.”

Mr Johnson was under the impression Canberra had warned Paris of the move to cancel the original submarine contract, but he suggested the notification may have been delayed, comparing it to putting off a difficult conversation.

“It’s a very human thing to delay the conversation until the last possible moment, I don’t know if anyone’s been in that situation in their emotional life, but it’s very human to put it off,” Mr Johnson said.

Asked if the current pact could be extended to France, Mr Johnson said: “Aukus has its own logic.”

During their 90-minute White House meeting on Tuesday, Mr Johnson and Mr Biden were understood to have gone further by saying they explicitly did not want other allies to enter the pact itself.

People familiar with UK Government thinking said the pair spoke about deepening the current pact to collaborate on other areas such as principles on open markets.

Enhancing non-nuclear deterrents and tackling human rights issues, were other areas said to have been discussed.

There were some suggestions from London that Paris could be ratcheting up its outrage in an effort to increase the level of compensation for the collapsed deal with Australia.

Mr Johnson also used “Franglais” to chide the French president during an interview in Washington.

“I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip (get a grip) about this and donnez-moi un break (give me a break),” he said.

However, there has been some thawing of tensions between Mr Macron and Mr Biden, with France now sending its ambassador back to Washington next week after a phone call between the men on Wednesday to help clear the air.

The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence”, the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. They will meet at the end of October in Europe.

Mr Biden and Mr Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”, the statement said.

Philippe Etienne, the French ambassador to the US, will “have intensive work with senior US officials” after his return to Washington next week.

Meanwhile, the White House meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Johnson was described as being far more relaxed than those under Donald Trump, when the business mogul would be on the edge of his seat and appear pushed for time.

Mr Biden was said to be friendly and willing to crack jokes, helping his rapport with a similarly gag-prone Prime Minister, and open to others around the table chipping in with their own ideas.

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