French President Emmanuel Macron labelled Scott Morrison a ‘liar’ when speaking to Australian reporters at the G20 Summit
Diplomatic tensions between the two countries have escalated since Australia pulled out of a $90 billion deal with France to manufacture its next generation of submarines.
Hours after the pair shared an awkward exchange at the G20 Summit in Rome, the French President made his feelings known about Mr Morrison during a fiery exchange with Australian journalists, labelling his counterpart a ‘liar’.
Speaking to reporters on Monday night Mr Morrison returned fire at Mr Macron saying he wouldn’t ‘cop sledging on Australia’ and refused to apologise for reneging on their deal and going with the US and UK on nuclear submarines.
‘We made the right calls for Australia. I don’t wish to personalise this,’ he proclaimed.
‘I must say the statements that have been made questioning Australia’s integrity, not me, I’ve got broad shoulders and I can take that, but those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia.’
An awkward handshake in Rome between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (centre right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (centre left)
Mr Macron was asked by reporters when leaving the event on Monday morning about the failed submarine deal, with the French president insisting it was aimed at Australian decision makers and not its people.
‘I have a lot of respect for your country, a lot of respect and friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line and consistent with this value.
The French president was then asked if the Australian prime minister had lied.
‘I don’t think, I know,’ Mr Macron replied before cutting off further questions.
In response, Mr Morrison fronted cameras on Monday night to say while he did not want to ‘personalise the spat’, he wouldn’t accept another leader ‘questioning Australia’s integrity’.
Scott Morrison has unleashed an extraordinary rant directed at Emmanuel Macron after the French President called his counterpart a ‘liar’
‘I have to put Australia’s interests before any interests that involved potentially offending others,’ he said.
‘The (French) submarine contract was a significant investment decision taken five years ago. At that point, given the strategic circumstance, time and technology available to Australia the attack class submarine was the right decision.
‘But there have been significant changes that have occurred in our strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, which completely changed the game.’
Mr Morrison had earlier shut down the claims he misled the French at a press conference.
He added he had explained Mr Macron ‘very clearly’ a few months ago the submarines ordered from France were ‘not going to meet Australia’s interests’.
French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured with wife Brigitte earlier this month) has accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying
Back home in Australia, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended the Prime Minister but admitted growing tensions between Australia and France are ‘challenging diplomatically.
‘It has been since the announcement,’ Mr Frydenberg told the Today show on Monday.
But we’re going to work through that. It was good that they had – the two leaders had that they had – the two leaders had that call the other day.
‘There are areas where we can work together and increase that level of cooperation. But, of course, with respect to the AUKUS deal, that sets Australia up for many years ahead and that is why it is so important to Australia’s national interests.’
Earlier in the program, agriculture Minister David Littleproud accused President Macron of being unreasonable.
The leaders met briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, just two days after a first phone call since Australia opted for nuclear-powered submarines in partnership with the US and Britain in the AUKUS pact.
Mr Morrison told reporters he only briefly bumped into the French leader and ‘said g’day’ and that he hoped they could speak more later.
Their icy phone conversation followed revelations that Mr Macron for weeks refused to take a call from Mr Morrison.
In what was reportedly a tense phone call before Mr Morrison left for Europe, Mr Macron told the prime minister he ‘broken the relationship of trust between our two countries’.
‘It is now up to the Australian government to propose tangible actions that embody the political will of Australia’s highest authorities to redefine the basis of our bilateral relationship and continue joint action in the Indo-Pacific,’ a statement from President Macron’s office said.
An Australian Collins class submarine (front) and the UK nuclear-powered attack submarine, HMS Astute (rear) are seen at HMAS Stirling Royal Australian Navy base in Perth on October 29, 2021. Australia is committed to getting its first nuclear-powered submarines built and operating as quickly as possible, says Defence Minister Peter Dutton, after pulling out of a $90billion deal to have France make its next generation of submarines
Before he flew to Rome, Mr Morrison played down the prospect of a meeting with Mr Macron.
‘I don’t think that’s probably going to happen this time,’ he said.
‘I think it will happen eventually, but we just got to give him a bit of space, give him a bit of space.
‘I mean, we had to take the decision we took in the national interest, and maybe we’ll catch up at some time down the track. But for now, you know, sometimes it’s just best to give our friends a bit of space.’
The plan to avoid Mr Macron in Rome came undone when the leaders unexpectedly found themselves just metres apart.
‘I said g’day, I said g’day,’ Mr Morrison told reporters in Rome.
‘He was having a chat to someone, I went up and just put my arm on his shoulder and just said ‘g’day, Emmanuel,’ and ‘look forward to catching up over the next couple of days’.
‘That’s the way these events tend to work and he was happy to exchange those greetings.’
Before bumping into Mr Morrison, Mr Macron had met Joe Biden. The US President expressed great concern about the handling of the secret plan to dump France from the submarine project, saying it was ‘clumsy’ and ‘not done with a lot of grace’.
‘I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through,’ Mr Biden told President Macron.
‘I honest to God did not know you had not been.’
Mr Morrison would no be drawn on whether Mr Biden had dropped him in deeper trouble with the French.
‘He’s had a candid conversation with the French President and I’ll leave his remarks for him,’ he said.
Mr Morrison and the Australian Government have been the subject of French fury at being kept in the dark over the decision to end the $90 billion submarine contract.
The French government was told Australia was scrapping the deal just hours before Mr Morrison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Biden hosted a tri-lateral press conference to talk about the new AUKUS security and defence pact.
France’s ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, was recalled in September after the submarine deal was cancelled, though he has since returned to Canberra.
The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his country’s parliament he asked the ambassador to go back to Australia with two missions: ‘To define our relationship with Australia in the future… and firmly defend our interests in the implementation of Australia’s decision to terminate the submarine program.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at the G20 summit of world leaders to discuss climate change, Covid-19 and the post-pandemic global recovery at the La Nuvola center G20 Summit, Rome, Italy
There are fears that Australia’s ditching of the French submarine deal could derail a potential free trade agreement with the European Union, of which France is a key member.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said of the deal cancellation: ‘There are a lot of open questions that have to be answered… One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable.’
France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune said France could halt progress on an EU-Australia trade deal which has been under negotiation since mid-2018.
‘Keeping one’s word is the condition of trust between democracies and between allies,’ he told Politico.
‘So it is unthinkable to move forward on trade negotiations as if nothing had happened with a country in which we no longer trust.’
During the 2019-20 financial year, Australia’s two-way trade with the EU was worth $78.7 billion, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade data showed.