PARIS – As France seethed with rage against Australia and the United States over a secretly negotiated military pact, it expressed a different attitude – of contempt – towards the other partner of the agreement: the Britain.
Over the weekend, several French officials downplayed the UK’s role in the landmark deal, which led Australia to cancel a billion-euro submarine deal with France, even suggesting that they expected such behavior from the British.
“Great Britain in this affair is a bit of a fifth wheel on the cart,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on the France 2 television channel on Saturday evening.
Indeed, the UK has so far been the least involved player in a growing diplomatic war of words over the new deal, despite having played a seemingly important role in the negotiations.
After Australia canceled its submarine contract with the French naval group, worth more than 50 billion euros, Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States in protest – but not the French envoy to the United Kingdom
Le Drian explained France’s decision by implying that London had only been a spectator in the military deal and therefore was not worth Paris’ wrath. “We know their constant opportunism,” he said, referring to the UK
The cynical rhetoric comes against the backdrop of already strained relations between Paris and London, mainly because of Brexit.
According to a column in French newspaper Le Monde, Paris has a political and diplomatic interest in downplaying London’s role in the military deal – this helps downplay the UK’s pro-Brexit rhetoric. Privately, French officials have ridiculed the UK as an intruder in the new trilateral partnership, desperately trying to show it has global diplomatic influence after Brexit.
French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune – who has not hesitated in the past to criticize the UK and Brexit on Twitter – has also dismissed Britons on television, saying that by leaving the EU , they “returned to the American fold” like the willing vassals of Washington.
British officials have so far been quieter than their Australian counterparts during the deal fallout.
New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the security partnership aims to “deliver services to people across the UK and beyond by partnering with countries sharing the same ideas to create coalitions based on shared values and interests ”. But the reference was mostly made in passing in a larger editorial.