Boris Johnson has said France should get over its anger at a partnership between the UK, US and Australia that saw the latter pull out of a major contract with Paris for submarines.
“What I want to say about that is I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip [get a grip] about all this and donnez-moi un break [give me a break],” the prime minister said when asked about the continuing row over the AUKUS initiative.
“This is fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder to shoulder and creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.
“It’s not exclusive, it’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It is not adversarial towards China, for instance.
“It is there to intensify links and friendship between three countries in a way that I think will be beneficial for things that we believe in.”
The AUKUS deal saw the UK, Australia and the US form a trilateral security pact to develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines, adding to the Western military presence in the Pacific region amid growing concern over China.
The initiative will focus initially on helping the Australian navy procure a multibillion-pound fleet of nuclear-powered submarines – a move that Beijing will likely see as aggressive.
Nuclear-powered submarines are superior to their diesel counterparts, as they can operate more quietly and stay underwater for longer.
But London, Canberra and Washington said they will also seek to collaborate in cyber, quantum technologies and artificial intelligence as well as other underwater capabilities – areas in which Western democracies are frantically racing their authoritarian rivals to dominate.
In a joint statement when AUKUS was announced, Mr Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “The endeavour we launch today will help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“For more than 70 years, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US, have worked together, along with other important allies and partners, to protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity. Today, with the formation of AUKUS, we recommit ourselves to this vision.”
But responding to the news, China’s embassy in Washington said the countries needed to “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”.
France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in a backlash over the new security partnership, with foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian describing it as a “stab in the back”.