11 Jul

'Boris Johnson will continue in public life: Julie Bishop' by Rachel Baxendale, The Australian

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says her former British counterpart Boris Johnson is a “remarkable”, “ambitious” person who will continue on in public life.

Mr Johnson resigned as foreign secretary yesterday, joining his colleague David Davis who resigned as Brexit minister and prompting speculation that he may attempt to challenge Prime Minister Theresa May for her job.

Ms Bishop said she would miss Mr Johnson.

“He was a great counterpart and was a very enthusiastic supporter of the Australia-UK relationship, and we developed a close personal rapport,” she told ABC radio.

“I spent quite some time with him during April at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London where we discussed regional and global challenges, and I was delighted that he was showing great interest in British involvement and engagement in the Pacific, indeed he announced the opening of three more UK missions in the Pacific during our visit there in April.

“But I’m looking forward to working with Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary whose been announced by Prime Minister Theresa May, and I hope to speak with him and meet with him as soon as possible, and continue on the deepening of the relationship between Australia and the UK, and to talk through some of these challenges, particularly Brexit and the relationship that Australia will have with the UK in terms of increased trade and investment post-Brexit.”

Asked whether she had any advice for Mr Johnson as a prominent conservative with possible leadership ambitions headed to the backbench, Ms Bishop said she did not believe Mr Johnson needed advice from anyone.

“He will continue to make a significant contribution to public life in Britain,” she said.

“He made an enormous contribution as the Lord Mayor of London, and I’m sure he’ll continue on in public life making a contribution.

“He’s a remarkable person. I’m sure he’s ambitious, but he has a different point of view regarding Brexit and I think that’s been obvious for some time now, and he feels that it would not be appropriate for him to continue on in the role of foreign secretary while he has such a different view on such a fundamental foreign policy issue as Brexit.”

Asked whether the softer Brexit model favoured by Ms May would be bad news for an Australia-UK free trade agreement, Ms Bishop said it was “early days”.

“It depends how this plays out, and a soft Brexit could just mean it’s going to take longer for Britain to exit and then be in a position to enter into free trade agreements with other countries, notably Australia, but the details are yet to be worked out. Theresa May is expecting a white paper on the UK-EU strategy later this week, and that will obviously guide the negotiating mandate that she will then take to the European Union negotiations,” she said.

“It’s very early days. The negotiating mandate that the Prime Minister has, is taken to the discussions with the EU.

“The EU may or may not agree with this, so it’s very early days and I don’t want to speculate on how Brexit will eventually turn out.

“Suffice to say that Australia is very keen to deepen our trading relationship with the United Kingdom, as we are with the EU.

“As you’d be aware we have commenced formal negotiations with the European Union for a free-trade agreement between Australia and the EU, and I’m hoping that High Commissioner Federica Mogherini, she’s representative from the EU, the equivalent of the foreign minister, will be in Australia shortly, and we will discuss the ongoing progress of our free trade agreement negotiations with the EU, so we likewise, once Britain has exited the EU, want to conclude a free-trade agreement with the UK, but it’s too early to say what Brexit will look like.”

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