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Franco-British ties dive again after submarine row
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Torpedoed: testy ties between Paris and London have soured further after the UK brokered a submarine deal between the US and Australia, Daniel Leal-Olivas./AFP

Torpedoed: testy ties between Paris and London have soured further after the UK brokered a submarine deal between the US and Australia, Daniel Leal-Olivas./AFP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that ties between Britain and France were "indestructible", but the relationship is bent badly out of shape with little prospect for an immediate improvement.

After years of duelling about Britain's departure from the European Union, the feuding neighbours have fallen out again over the sale of submarines to Australia in the past week.

French President Emmanuel Macron was left furious after Australia ditched a mega-deal to buy submarines from France in favour of American ones -- secured during secret negotiations facilitated by Britain.

While Macron finally took a call from US President Joe Biden on Wednesday, a week after the row erupted, he is yet to speak to Johnson whose quip that the French needed to "prenez un grip" (get a grip) has gone down badly in Paris.

"The relationship hasn't been this tense in a long time," Sylvie Bermann, France's ambassador to Britain from 2014-2017, told AFP.

French fury over what it sees as a "stab in the back" over the submarine contract saw Macron recall the French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra in an unprecedented diplomatic protest.

But in what looked like an attempted snub, the French envoy in London remained at her post, with French Europe Minister Clement Beaune dismissing London as a mere "third wheel" in the deal and a "junior partner" to the US.

Privately, French officials concede Britain played a crucial role in connecting the Australians with the new Biden administration, while British companies are set to be involved in building the Australian subs.

- Loggerheads -

The dynamic of Anglo-French relations has always been subject to ups and downs, shaped by their historical rivalry as well as their time as allies in the two world wars.

For more than 40 years, they were yoked together in an often tense relationship within the European Union, but Britain's painful departure from the bloc has seen them return to a pattern of almost permanent antagonism.


"Today we have a British prime minister who wants to prove that Brexit is a great success and on the other side a French president who is profoundly European, so it's normal that there are disagreements," Bermann said.

Elvire Fabry from the Jacques Delors Institute, a France-based think-tank, says the Brexit negotiations left a deep well of bad blood.

"France was the 'bad cop' and called for a hard line right up to the end," she said.

As a result, 43-year-old Macron is seen in London as ideologically opposed to Brexit -- and therefore determined to ensure it comes with high costs.

Former British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote recently in the Daily Telegraph that ties would improve only "if France stops treating us as a renegade state needing to be punished for Brexit and instead as an independent, equal sovereign power".

Source(s): AFP

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