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'Humble' debut for Boris Johnson at Brussels summit

Published 18/07/2016

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cut a "humble" figure at his first Brussels summit, but failed to apologise for comparing the EU with Hitler, his French counterpart said.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, who branded Mr Johnson a liar last week over his referendum claims, said he did not take the Hitler remarks personally.

"No. He did not apologise," Mr Ayrault said.

"I did not feel it targeted me when he said that, nobody around the table did.

"Everyone knows what the EU is. Everyone knows, who discusses it reasonably, that the EU presents a great opportunity for freedom, democracy and for prosperity.

"So Boris Johnson, I would say, came to this council with some humility."

The newly-appointed Foreign Secretary caused widespread anger during the Brexit campaign when he compared the ambitions of the EU with those of Hitler.

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders said everyone was waiting to see if Mr Johnson still had the same views on Hitler.

The spat came as Mr Johnson insisted the EU could remain a "docking station" for the UK after Brexit.

"The point I was making there is that we are very keen to see the EU develop and go forward and all we would say is that there are kind of docking stations and doorways open for further UK involvement down the track," he said.

But in a sign of the tough negotiations ahead, Brussels warned that EU nationals in the UK must be treated with "dignity" as the Government continues to refuse to guarantee their status.

With Brexit Minister David Davis floating the idea of bringing in a pre-withdrawal cut-off point, after which migrants will not be allowed full rights, the EU called for "calm".

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's spokesman said concerns around the 1.2 million Britons living in the EU and the three million EU nationals in the UK could only be sorted out once the UK triggered formal exit negotiations.

"In the meantime, I think that when dealing with these issues we have a common interest to appeal for calm and dignity," he said.

"We are talking about people now, so all sorts of statements and acts should be firmly anchored in the law."

Mr Johnson used his debut on the world stage to insist Britain would not "abandon" its leading role in Europe.

Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Berlin and Paris this week to underline the need for London to maintain a strong relationship with the continental powers.

Events in Turkey and Nice dominated the summit, which also featured a working breakfast with US secretary of state John Kerry.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a stark warning to Ankara in the wake of the crackdown after the attempted coup in Turkey. Mr Kerry also warned against "backsliding" on democracy in the country.

Mr Kerry insisted the EU was a force for good as he pointed out that America and Europe together had defeated fascism.

The US secretary of state welcomed Mr Johnson's assurance that Britain would continue with a leadership role in Europe.

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