France has denounced Australia’s “very inelegant” move to leak a private text message from President Emmanuel Macron to the Australian premier about a submarine deal that Canberra later unilaterally dropped, deeply dismaying Paris and sparking a diplomatic row.
Several Australian media outlets reported that Macron had texted Prime Minister Scott Morrison two days before the announcement of a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and Britain, which led to the cancellation of a decade-old multi-billion-dollar Australian deal with France.
“Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?” reads Macron’s text message.
Canberra had signed the deal with France to receive conventional diesel-electric submarines, but it scrapped the contract after secretly negotiating and signing the new partnership with the US and Britain, which is known as AUKUS and would allow Australia to acquire American nuclear-powered submarines.
The development has sent diplomatic relations between Canberra and Paris into free fall since September. France has accused both Australia and the US of betraying it, and Macron has hit out at Morrison for lying to him.
The leaking of Macron’s text message to Morrison has raised speculation that the French president was less surprised by the cancellation than he has claimed.
A source close to Macron, however, said that the text did not undermine Paris’ narrative. “On the contrary, this SMS shows that the president did not know that they were going to cancel the contract,” AFP quoted the source as speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“We knew that the Australians had some issues, but they only concerned technical aspects and the timetable, as with every big contract like this one,” the source added.
French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thébault also reacted to the leak on Tuesday, saying that it had been a setback “in terms of truth and trust.” He said the text “demonstrates that until the last minute, we didn’t know where things were heading to.”
“You don’t behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders who are allies. But maybe it’s just confirmation that we were never seen as an ally,” Thébault said.
Thébault also warned world leaders that “there will be leaks, and what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponized against you one day.”
There were also reports that suggested the text message leak could have been engineered by Morrison’s office in retaliation for Macron’s “lying” charge.
Speaking to reporters in Dubai on Wednesday, Morrison did not dispute a suggestion that his office had leaked the text message, simply saying, “Claims had been made and those claims were refuted… what is needed now is for us to move on.”
He also said he would “never make any apologies” for scrapping the French contract, which he said was “not going to do the job that Australia needed to do.”