Recalled French ambassador says next steps being considered after Australia's 'breach of trust'

France's ambassador to Australia told SBS French the decision to scrap the $90 billion submarine goes beyond a breach of a contract, describing it as "treason in the making".

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison before a working dinner in Paris on June 15, 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison before a working dinner in Paris on June 15, 2021. Source: AAP

The French ambassador to Australia accused Australia of "treason" and "an unprecedented breach of trust" after a $90 billion bilateral submarine deal was scrapped in favour of an arrangement between Australia, the US and the UK. 

France was taken by surprise on Thursday when Mr Morrison, along with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced Australia's new nuclear-powered submarine fleet would be built between the three allies.

In response, France on Saturday announced it would be withdrawing its ambassadors from Australia and the US immediately.

Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison and Joe Biden announcing the AUKUS alliance on Thursday morning.
Source: AAP

France's ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thébault, revealed he had only learned about Australia's decision to scrap the $90 billion contract through the media.

"To learn from the press that this partnership was suddenly breached - yes, I was in shock," he told SBS French's Grégory Plesse.

Speaking before boarding a plane to leave Australia, Mr Thébault said it is particularly troubling to discover the deal between the US, UK and Australia was 18 months in the making. 

"This was treason in the making over 18 months. 

"There was refusal - without justification - to even consider the possibility to even talk about with France about something that French knows extremely well - nuclear submarine.

"I am in deep disbelief and deep shock. 

"It was a breach of trust which has no precedence, not only between France and Australia, but also in diplomatic relations."

Mr Thebault said the nature of the contract went beyond an ordinary commercial transaction to the exchange of "technology secrets". 

"It was (really) a true relation of partnership, a true relation of confidence, of trust between two major countries in the Indo-Pacific.

"So it was something of a completely different nature than an ordinary contract."

He went on to say France deserved an explanation from Australia, saying "re-establishing trust is key".

French President Emmanuel Macron greets Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June.
Source: EPA

He said a substantial gesture will be required to get the bilateral relationship back on track. 

"I can confirm that I have been recalled. This is done when something particularly serious happens in the relations between the two countries."

The Labor Party blasted Prime Minister Scott Morrison for "blindsiding" France by scrapping the $90 billion submarine contract with France this week.

On Saturday, Labor's spokesperson for legal affairs, Mark Dreyfus, urged the prime minister to explain exactly how he planned to mend Australia's relationship with France.

"The French were blindsided by this decision and Mr Morrison should have done much more to protect the relationship," Mr Dreyfus said.

"The impact on our relationship with France is a concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region.

"The Morrison-Joyce Government needs to explain what it is going to do to protect this important relationship."

A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had noted France's decision to recall its ambassador "with regret".

"Australia understands France's deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests," the spokesperson said.

"Australia values its relationship with France, which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

"This will not change." 

Published 18 September 2021 at 4:52pm, updated 18 September 2021 at 8:04pm
By Claudia Farhart, Biwa Kwan
Source: SBS News