Boris Johnson: Brexit will enable UK to engage with the world

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New Zealand will be “at or near the front of the queue” for a free trade deal with the UK after it leaves the European Union, Boris Johnson has said.

During a visit to the country he also said Brexit was not about Britain becoming more isolationist.

Instead it would give the UK an opportunity to “engage with the world again in a way that we haven’t been able to do for 43 years”, he said.

He dismissed leadership talk, saying no one wanted “more political kerfuffle”.

The foreign secretary was speaking during a press conference at New Zealand’s parliament buildings in Wellington, during a two-day trip designed to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth state as the UK seeks new trading links after leaving the EU.

“I can certainly tell you that New Zealand is at or near the very front of the queue,” he told reporters.

“The whole point is that the UK is not turning in as a result of Brexit – we are turning out.

“We want to engage with the world again in a way that we haven’t been able to do for 43 years – and we want to engage above all with our old friends and partners, like New Zealand.”

Britain cannot sign trade deals with third countries while it remains an EU member.

Closer ties

“We are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe of course,” Mr Johnson said. “And we are going to do, we hope, a great free trade deal with New Zealand.”

Brexit was not about people being “hostile to immigrants”, he said, adding: “They weren’t hostile to people with talents and energy coming to the UK – they just wanted to feel that the British government had a handle on it.”

Gerry Brownlee, New Zealand’s foreign minister, 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 close together”.

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During a ceremony in Wellington, Mr Johnson was greeted by a shout of “Boris for PM” – but he played down the idea of him replacing Theresa May as PM.

“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,” he said.

“What the British people want to see is us getting on with the job. They see no need for any more political kerfuffle.”

He 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…. I’m going to put that out,” he said.

“But the Labour Party did not win – they were 50 seats behind. We have a workable system of getting stuff through the House of Commons… we have a workable majority with our friends from Northern Ireland.

“We are getting on with the business of governing, which is overwhelmingly what the British people want to see.”

Mr Johnson is on the latest leg of a nine-day international tour that will see him head to Australia next.