AUKUS: UK defence minister denies 'conspiracy of silence'

A defence minister has denied a "conspiracy of silence" by the UK after France was left "absolutely furious" over a cancelled multibillion-pound submarine deal.

Baroness Goldie insisted "business continues" with the nation's near neighbour and ally, after being pressed in Parliament over steps being taken by the Government to repair relations with Paris.

A diplomatic row erupted after the UK joined a new military pact, known as 'AUKUS', which will see Britain and the US co-operate to develop a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian navy.

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AUKUS is widely seen as a counter move to increasing Chinese military assertiveness in the region.

Paris branded the deal a "stab in the back" as it led Canberra to pull out of a £48.5bn contract with France to build 12 conventionally powered diesel-electric vessels.

At Westminster, political opponents highlighted overtures being made by Washington to heal the rift with France and questioned what the UK had done.

Baroness Goldie said: "I want to dispel the illusion that there is some conspiracy of silence on the part of the UK, there is not.

"Certainly from a defence perspective, business continues as it has to because of the essential nature of our activity.

"We have a lot of important matters to engage upon and that's what we are doing."

Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said Australians had "made the right decision".

"However, it rather seems that we have left the French out on the side," he added.

Watch: What is AUKUS and why is Australia getting nuclear-powered submarines?

"They are very angry. At the NATO discussions this week, they were throwing their toys out of their cot.

"I would like to think that we have been talking closely with them."

Baroness Goldie said: "I seek to assure him that we recognise the significance of the French government's reaction to AUKUS and the strength of the feeling it has generated.

"We have a long-standing relationship with France in global security and defence, that is founded on firm lines… We are both committed to the same things."

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: "We all support the AUKUS deal but does the minister realise that the French are absolutely furious with us to the extent that only a few weeks ago they cancelled a meeting with our own Defence Secretary…and we depend upon France to work with us on common interests across the world?"

Baroness Goldie told peers: "This new arrangement is predicated on the desire by another state, Australia, to make changes to its submarine fleet.

"That is not something the United Kingdom instigated. We were approached by Australia."

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