French envoy to discuss torpedoed sub deal

France’s envoy is set to outline how his nation plans to redefine its relationship with Australia in the wake of a $90 billion submarine deal being sunk.

Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault and his US counterpart were recalled to Paris in September after Scott Morrison revealed Australia would work with the US and UK on a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Mr Thebault will address the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The deal torpedoed five years of collaboration between Australia and France on a project to deliver 12 diesel-powered boats to replace the ageing Collins class fleet.

France labelled the decision “unacceptable behaviour” by its allies and partners, and described its impact as “affecting the very concept… of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”.

Mr Morrison has since had a phone call with President Emmanuel Macron and briefly caught up with him at the G20 summit in Rome.

Mr Macron – in a media doorstop with Australian journalists – accused the prime minister of misleading him over the deal with the US and UK.

“I don’t think, I know,” he said, when asked whether Mr Morrison lied to him.

Mr Morrison has denied misleading the French government and insists concerns about the submarine project have been raised for some time.

Communications between the two leaders were also leaked to the media, with the French president reportedly telling Mr Morrison, “I don’t like losing”.

Days before the announcement, Mr Macron reportedly messaged Mr Morrison asking, “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”

Deutsche Presse-Agentur cited a source close to Macron as saying on Tuesday that publishing a personal text messages from one leader to another is an “inelegant and unacceptable method, to say it politely”.

The source reportedly told DPA it was “not up to the standard of a head of government” and a “last desperate attempt” by Morrison to save his honour.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said the way to repair the relationship with France would be to allow the country to re-tender for the submarines, based on a nuclear-powered model.

As well, the UK and US should be invited to put in tenders.

“Under those circumstances not only would you maximise best money for value from the Australian taxpayer point of view, you would go some way to repairing the relationship with the French,” Mr Rudd told the ABC.

Mr Rudd said Mr Morrison had not only jeopardised relations with France but “thrown a spanner in the works” of collaboration between the EU and the United States.

“Our national security interest should be attended to by a proper, sober decision-making process, not this series of random political acts by a prime minister who finds himself… increasingly out of his depth on questions of foreign policy,” he said.

The Fort News