The Aukus defence pact between the UK, US and Australia is game-changing. A courageous decision to share nuclear technology with a friendly power, it re-tilts UK foreign policy towards the Pacific, where the threat of China must be managed, and proves that Global Britain is a concrete idea. Brexit, finally, is making a real, historic difference.
To the French, however, it is a betrayal. Some degree of annoyance might be understandable, given that the country has lost out on a deal to sell 12-diesel powered submarines to Australia. But the extent of Emmanuel Macron’s fury is absurd, and only shows the sublime lack of self-awareness that has come to characterise Europe’s myopic political elites.
Paris has recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington; Britain has been labelled a poodle. The deal was, allegedly, a “stab in the back”. All this is petulant and stunningly hypocritical: the European establishment has a long history of treating its geopolitical partners abysmally while wearing a mask of moral superiority.
Mr Macron is one of the leading examples of this tendency. During the Brexit talks, he made no attempt to show the UK respect, and acted as if he had no desire to achieve a mutually-beneficial deal. On every issue, he made it his mission to adopt the most hardline position possible, seeking to punish Britain for the crime of attempting to separate itself from the EU.
His aggressive anti-British stance did not end with the signing of the eventual trade agreement. When there was a dispute over fishing off Jersey earlier this year, he threatened to cut off electricity to the island. He shamefully sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, presumably because it was invented in the UK. He has adopted a nakedly antagonistic posture towards this country, apparently out of the belief that he is advancing France’s own national interests.
In so doing, he is following a proud French tradition. Paris is hardly a stranger to hard-nosed realpolitik, being among the leading proponents of the view that international affairs is about defending your national interests even at the cost of those of your allies. In 1966, Charles de Gaulle pulled out of Nato’s integrated command. In 1985, amid controversy over nuclear testing in the Pacific, François Mitterrand’s French agents sank a Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior. It is therefore somewhat rich for Mr Macron to complain when other countries decide that their own priorities do not accord with his own.
Evidently, the Aukus partners sought a nimble alliance that can react fast to events; the plan was apparently sealed at the G7, only in June. It is also a deal that is based on trust. The UK and US have been partners in nuclear technology since the 1940s: the last time the US shared nuclear propulsion technology was with Britain in 1958. Drawing Australia into that relationship, a rising power with historic links to the UK and a member of the elite Five Eyes intelligence sharing group, was not a thoughtless betrayal of the French. It was entirely rational in the circumstances.
But France and the Remainers in Britain who appear to be determined to take its side, do not seem to be capable of seeing clearly any longer. Their miscalculation of the Biden presidency, for example, has been catastrophic. The common assumption was that the years of Donald Trump were an aberration, and that after he left office the US would become a bulwark of a multilateral order that prioritised Europe and the EU over the likes of the UK.
Yet Mr Biden’s irrational dislike of Brexit and his sympathy for liberal causes, such as fighting climate change, were never a guarantee of a pivot towards serving the European project. The US was disgusted by Germany’s pipeline deal with Russia, and while Washington is now seeking partners that will stand firm against China, Europe has too often shown itself willing to compromise with Beijing in order to secure trade and investment advantages.
Mr Biden botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan and is desperately naive on Iran. But he does operate according to what he regards as the US’s interests, because that is what all presidents, Democrat or Republican, do. The irony is that the French consider his actions “Trumpian”, yet they never withdrew their ambassador under Mr Trump. History will record that they did it under the most left-wing president since FDR.
Aukus vindicates the UK’s exit from the EU. Brexit set the UK free to re-evaluate its own interests and serve them better. The deal proves decisively that the Remainer claim that Britain can have no influence outside of a European bloc, to which it must necessarily surrender its sovereignty or become irrelevant, was a lie. The UK is an attractive geopolitical partner, with significant military and diplomatic advantages, that now has the capacity to act more flexibly in global affairs. Mr Macron will just have to get used to that.