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Boris Johnson has told Emmanuel Macron he wants to renew co-operation with France after a falling out over the new Indo-Pacific pact between the US, Australia and the UK that excluded Paris and led to the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar French submarine contract, the Elysée Palace said.
In a brief statement, Macron’s office said the discussion on Friday morning was at Johnson’s request.
Johnson had “expressed his intention to restore co-operation between France and the UK, in line with our values and our common interests (the climate, the Indo-Pacific, the struggle against terrorism, etc)”, the French statement said.
Macron responded by saying “he was waiting for Johnson’s proposals”.
France was so outraged by the so-called Aukus deal being negotiated in secret behind its back that it withdrew its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra in protest, while its officials suggested that Johnson’s UK government was already so opportunistic and under the sway of the Americans that it was not worth the French government taking a stand against London.
Downing Street said the call covered “a range of issues of mutual interest”, including the challenges of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
“They reaffirmed the importance of the UK-France relationship and agreed to continue working closely together around the world on our shared agenda, through Nato and bilaterally.”
Johnson’s office added: “The leaders noted in particular the strategic significance of our longstanding co-operation in the Indo-Pacific and in Africa, including through the joint mission in Mali.”
Joe Biden had already offered an olive branch to Macron to ease tensions. In a joint statement issued after a call between the two leaders, Biden appeared to concede that Paris had been wrongly excluded from the discussions on Aukus, which aims to replace French-designed conventional submarines with US nuclear-powered vessels to confront China in the Pacific.
“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” Biden and Macron said. “President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Johnson, however, had mocked Macron in “franglais”, suggesting he needed to “prenez un grip” and accept that Aukus would boost global security. In Washington, he said Macron should “donnez-moi un break” and get over his anger.
Despite bitterness over Brexit on both sides of the Channel, the UK and France — both nuclear-armed permanent members of the UN Security Council that wield the most capable armed forces in western Europe — had previously pledged to maintain their bilateral military co-operation. The two recently established a 10,000-strong joint expeditionary force for urgent deployments around the world.
Macron and his ministers, however, say the Aukus deal and the way it was negotiated have undermined trust that will take time to rebuild.
Florence Parly, French defence minister, said it was “up to the British to say” how military co-operation between the UK and France could continue. “Given that they have made the choice first of Brexit, then of ‘Global Britain’ and finally of further increased dependence on the US, the ball is in their court,” she told Le Monde in an interview.
Detailed discussions between the two sides on a joint anti-ship missile programme that were to have taken place in the coming weeks would be delayed, she said.