Boris Johnson has hailed the newly signed UK and US agreement to build Australian nuclear submarines as creating an “inseparable” partnership, which will “accelerate” the creation of a range of cyber and AI-based defence systems.
Johnson told MPs today that the agreement will enhance “security” and ensure “regional stability” in the Indo-Pacific in thinly veiled remarks aimed at China.
The new trilateral partnership, which has been dubbed AUKUS, will see the three countries draw up plans over the next 18 months to launch nuclear submarines in Australia.
The 12 state of the art submarines will put Australia’s naval technology on par with China’s, however all three countries have made clear that they will not be used to proliferate nuclear weapons.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, Johnson said: “One of the great prizes of this enterprise is Australia, the UK and the US will become inseparable partners in a project that will last for decades, creating opportunities for still greater defence and industrial cooperation.
“The integrated review of foreign and defence policy described Britain’s renewed focus on the Indo Pacific – fast becoming the geopolitical centre of the world ever more important for British trade and therefore British jobs and livelihoods.
“It amounts to a new pillar of our strategy, representing Britain’s generational commitment to the security of the Indo Pacific and showing exactly how we can help one of our oldest friends to preserve regional stability.”
The AUKUS deal was announced in a joint press conference last night by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, US President Joe Biden and Johnson.
Australia previously had signed a deal with France to create the submarines that was worth around £48bn, however Canberra has now cancelled that agreement.
The new AUKUS agreement will see the three countries align more closely on regional foreign policy, along with increased military integration.
Johnson said that it would also propel efforts to modernise the UK’s defence systems in a number of areas.
“While our partnership will begin with nuclear submarines, now we have created AUKUS we expect to accelerate the development for other advanced defence systems, including in cyber, AI, quantum computing and undersea capabilities,” he said.
Speaking at the press conference last night, Biden said: “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the years ahead.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the new pact, but called for greater clarity on the government’s stance on China.
UK-China relations have become increasingly frosty over the past 18 months, however the government’s recent integrated review of foreign and defence policy said the country was only a “systemic competitor” and emphasised the need to strengthen economic ties with Beijing.
“With COP26 around the corner, the UK’s approach to China matters. But for years Conservative governments pursued a naïve ‘Golden Era’ policy which turned a blind eye to security and human rights concerns,” Starmer said.
“That policy unraveled and we are still managing the consequences.”