Update: Australian PM rejects ‘sledging’ from France amid row

Emmanuel Macron pats Scott Morrison on the shoulder during a meeting in Paris in June
Emmanuel Macron says Scott Morrison lied to him during a meeting in June

Australian PM Scott Morrison has escalated a row with France over a scrapped submarine deal, saying his nation will not accept “sledging” and “slurs”.

On Sunday French President Emmanuel Macron said he knew Mr Morrison had lied to him about his intentions to renege on the deal. Mr Morrison denies he lied, but he’s been accused of cynically twisting Mr Macron’s words as rebuking Australians rather than him personally.

“I’ve got broad shoulders, I can deal with that [the accusations],” Mr Morrison told reporters at the COP26 climate summit. “But those slurs – I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.”

In September, Australia cancelled the $37bn (£27bn) deal with France to build 12 diesel-powered submarines, and instead negotiated a defence pact with the US and the UK – the so-called Aukus.

It will see Australia gain access to US nuclear submarine technology, a move seen as a strategic counter to China.

But the move infuriated France, which said it was blindsided. Paris temporarily recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the US.

Mr Macron and Mr Morrison met at the G20 summit in Rome on the weekend – their first meeting since the row. But asked later whether he thought Mr Morrison had been untruthful, Mr Macron said: “I don’t think, I know.”

He told Australian journalists in Rome: “I have a lot of respect for your country. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line and consistently with this value.”

Speaking in Glasgow, Mr Morrison maintained he did not wish to “personalise” the row, acknowledging France had taken offence. But he said he had explained concerns about the contract to Mr Macron in June.

Australian commentators have accused Mr Morrison and his advisers of trying to blunt the row’s impact domestically. “Imagine the jetlagged brainstorming on the midnight flight to Glasgow. Let’s accuse Macron of sledging. Aussies will get that. And let’s say he was having a go at Australia, not me. Australia,” wrote Barrie Cassidy.

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