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DSEI 2021: UK Defence Secretary tries to calm rift with France over Australian submarine deal

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has moved to calm a war of words with the French government over Australia's ditching of a deal to build conventionally powered submarines with French assistance in favour of nuclear-powered submarines based on UK and US technology.

The Australia - United Kingdom - United States (AUKUS) security partnership was announced by the leaders of the three countries' governments on 15 September. The radical shift in Australian submarine plans within it prompted the French Ministry of Armed Forces to call the decision “regrettable” and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain to say he was angry at a “break in trust”.

Speaking to the media at the DSEI exhibition in London on 16 September, Wallace attributed the Australian decision to a changed requirement and said Anglo-French defence co-operation would continue.

“Australia wanted better capability to defend its interests,” said Wallace. “Australia joins the small club of operators of nuclear-propelled submarines. It gives them a strategic advantage. Australia wanted new capability.”

Wallace said choices about defence capabilities were routine business. “I make those choices all day,” he said. “I understand France's disappointment over the diesel-electric [submarine] deal. I would be disappointed if it had happened to us; I would be deeply disappointed on behalf of the industry I represent, of course I would.

“If we are able to step back, the UK, France and US agree on so much, share the same values,” said Wallace. “France and the UK are deeply invested in defeating ISIS terrorism in Iraq and Syria. We are active together in Africa. Our actions are more unifying that a bit of rhetoric by ex-ambassadors.”

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