Post-Brexit trade ‘top of the agenda’ as Boris Johnson arrives in Australia
The Foreign Secretary emphasised the bonds of kinship between Britain and Australia.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has arrived in Australia on the latest leg of his extended overseas mission to drum up trade deals for the UK after Brexit.
Mr Johnson will meet his opposite number Julie Bishop and join Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon to take part in the annual Aukmin summit of UK and Australian ministers to discuss defence and foreign affairs on Thursday.
But he said post-Brexit trade will be “top of the agenda” for the three-day visit, which follows stops in Japan and New Zealand.
“The bonds of kinship between Britain and Australia are deep and enduring,” said Mr Johnson.
“It is fantastic to be back in Australia, my first time as Foreign Secretary. Our relationship is based on shared history, interests and values, with large numbers of our nationals making each other’s countries home.
“I look forward to strengthening even further our partnerships on global challenges and opportunities, such as North Korea, the fight against extremism and terror, modern slavery and trade.
“Talks with businesses and government on boosting trade between us when we leave the EU will also be at the top of agenda. I can’t wait to catch up with old friends and to make new ones.”
Before flying to Australia, Mr Johnson toured the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary for indigenous species near Kiwi capital Wellington, where he held a tuatara lizard and took snaps of the flightless takahe bird on his smartphone.
After being greeted by a shout of “Boris for PM” at a ceremony in Wellington, the Foreign Secretary played down the idea that he was in the running to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister.
Insisting that the call was “diametrically opposed” to his own opinion, Mr Johnson said: “What the British people want to see is a government that gets on with the job and they’ve got that with Theresa and we are going to deliver a great Brexit deal… They see no need for any more political kerfuffle.”
When asked if “infighting” could compromise progress in trade discussions, Mr Johnson said any suggestion of discord in the Conservative Party had “completely passed me by”.
“Let’s be clear, the election did not evolve entirely in the way the Government had hoped or would have wanted,” he said. “But the Labour Party did not win, they were 50 seats behind.”
Mr Johnson also reiterated his view that Brexit was not about Britain becoming more isolationist.
“Brexit is not, was not, will not be about Britain turning away from the world,” he said.
“On the contrary, it is about us wanting to keep great relations with European friends and partners and do a great free trade deal with them, but it is also about rediscovering and intensifying friendships and partnerships around the world.”
New Zealand’s foreign minister Gerry Brownlee said there was a “strong interest” in swiftly concluding a free trade agreement with the UK after Brexit – adding it will “bring our two countries closer together”.
While in Australia, Mr Johnson is also due to deliver a high-profile lecture to the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney on Thursday, and take a tour of the city’s world-famous Opera House, currently being refurbished by UK company Laing O’Rourke.