Australia’s former Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged he did not tell French President Emmanuel Macron he was planning to renege on a €56 billion submarine contract and buy U.S.-made subs instead.
“Our strategy was that if we are going to do this, we can’t let it lead to the French knowing — in case that damages the French deal,” Morrison said in an upcoming book seen by newswire Agence France-Presse.
“So, we had to build Chinese walls — pardon the pun — around our discussions,” said Morrison, in an interview with Australian journalist Richard Kerbaj for a new chapter of the book “The Secret History of The Five Eyes,” about the intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. An updated version of the book will be published in July.
Morrison explained he secretly worked with the U.S. and the U.K. for two years to form an alternative alliance — labeled AUKUS — in which the three countries would share advanced defense technologies, allowing Canberra to buy American nuclear-powered submarines and ditch the French contract.
But Morrison maintained he did not lie to Macron: “Not telling him is not the same as lying to him,” he said.
Under the original deal, Canberra had agreed to buy a dozen conventional war submarines from the French shipbuilder Naval Group. When it was first announced in 2016, France called the deal the “contract of the century.”
Australia’s decision to walk back on the agreement, announced in September 2021, was perceived as a betrayal in Paris, with then-Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying it was akin to “a stab in the back.”
The move heavily strained diplomatic relations between the two countries, with Macron later accusing Morrison of lying, saying he did not disclose he was talking to the U.S. and U.K.
The dispute was eventually settled in June 2022, with Australia agreeing to pay France more than half a billion euros to bury the hatchet.