Boris Johnson appeared to distance Britain from Donald Trump on Friday, saying that the country’s decision to leave the European Union should not be likened to the Republican presidential candidate’s “America first” isolationist foreign policy.
The foreign secretary also claimed European countries had shown a willingness to move quickly to reach a settlement on the terms of Britain’s exit from the trade block and insisted that a “balance can be struck” between free trade and the free movement of workers.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York, on his first official visit to the US in his new role, Johnson dismissed a suggestion posed by a reporter that Trump’s campaign pledge to “put Americanism before internationalism” might bear “similarities to Brexit”.
“I would draw a very, very strong contrast between Brexit and any kind of isolationism,” said Johnson, going on to claim that “Brexit means us being more outward looking, more engaged, more energetic, more enthusiastic on the world stage than ever before.”
During his campaign for the US presidency, Trump has repeatedly proposed a retreat from foreign commitments. Having said he could charge foreign allies a fee for the security they enjoy from a US military presence, he also refused this week to commit to defending Nato allies if they were attacked.
“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said, during his nomination acceptance speech in Ohio on Thursday.
Johnson cautioned that it would be “quite wrong” for him to take sides within the US election campaign, and stressed that “we in the UK government will work with whoever is elected”. But his remarks appeared to amount to a pointed rejection of suggestions by several commentators that Brexit and Trump’s ascent are part of one wave of inward-facing rightwing populism.
Johnson told reporters outside the security council chamber in Manhattan that convincing Britain’s global allies that Brexit did not equate to a British retreat from the international stage was “the whole purpose of coming here”.
The foreign secretary claimed to have detected a “quite striking” change of mood in European capitals towards the issue of Britain’s exit from the EU “as understanding starts to break in and people see what this is really all about”.
Amid persistent doubts that Britain will be able to strike a new deal containing significant benefits of free trade without being bound by the requirements of freedom of movement for European workers that have proven so controversial among voters, Johnson insisted it could be done.
“I’ve absolutely no doubt that that balance can be struck, and over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing that in the government and with our European friends and partners.
“Everybody wishes to make fast progress in the economic interests both of Britain and of the European Union,” he said. “I think there is very much a deal there to be done, and the faster we can get it done, the better.”
Johnson spoke after proposing a motion at the security council granting legal authorisation for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to remove the precursors of chemical weapons from Libya and have them be destroyed in a third country.
He said the motion, which passed with unanimous support, should be seen as “an indication of our determination” to continue with international commitments despite the Brexit vote.
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