Boris Johnson mocks French outrage over submarine spat

Mr Boris Johnson appeared to leave the door open for France or other nations to join the agreement.
Mr Boris Johnson appeared to leave the door open for France or other nations to join the agreement.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France it was time to get over its anger about being brushed aside as the United States and Britain cut a deal to supply Australia with nuclear submarines.

He made the comments in a pooled television clip in Washington on Wednesday (Sept 22) following a meeting with US President Joe Biden the previous evening.

France certainly did come up in his 90-minute chat with Mr Biden, Mr Johnson added.

"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)," Mr Johnson told reporters outside the Capitol building.

Paris had reacted with fury to news of the three-way defence pact last week, recalling its ambassadors in Washington and Canberra while dismissing Britain as a bit player, whose role as a "spare tyre" did not merit a diplomatic slap.

As part of the deal, Australia cancelled a US$66 billion (S$89.22 billion) deal to purchase diesel-powered submarines from France.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared to leave the door open for France or other nations to join the agreement, which aims to increase Western influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

"It's not exclusive," Mr Johnson said. "It's not trying to shoulder anybody out. It's not adversarial towards China for instance."

But his latest comments are unlikely to go down well in Paris, where President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to chat with Mr Biden later on Wednesday.

French officials say they were given no warning of the deal, and have taken the lack of communication as a personal slight that they say is unworthy of an ally.

Mr Johnson suffered his own disappointment after Mr Biden indicated there is no prospect of a bilateral trade deal between Britain and the US anytime soon.

Mr Johnson had told British voters that a commercial agreement with the US would be one of the great prizes after Brexit.

"The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now, but I've got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done," he said.

"And there are plenty of people in that building behind me who certainly want a deal."