27 July 2017

Trade deal with Australia after EU Brexit

BRITAIN’S Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is a fan of US President Donald Trump’s habit of taking to Twitter in the middle of the night, describing the practice as “pretty refreshing”.

After delivering a wide-ranging speech in which he reminisced about how he forged a love for Stubbies shorts, Kylie Minogue and 80s band Men At Work during a year-long stay in Australia as a 19-year-old, Mr Johnson opened up about Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He told the crowd of political and business leaders at the Lowy Lecture in Sydney that Mr Trump’s often controversial pronouncements on Twitter – which this week included a tirade against his attorney-general and his plan to ban transgender people from the US military – weren’t necessarily bad.

“Actually, I think, sometimes firing off things, tweeting in the middle of the night exactly what you think can be pretty refreshing,” he said.

“It is not a universally held view, but sometimes it can be.”

Mr Johnson said what countries like Australia and Britain needed to remember – amid the controversy surrounding Mr Trump – is that their relationship with the US is of “cardinal importance”.

President Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Picture: AP

President Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Picture: APSource:AP

“The US has been the guarantor – the primary guarantor of peace and stability in our continent, in the West, and, indeed, in the Pacific, for 70 years,” he said. “That is a huge fact, and that transcends personalities, and that’s what we have to focus on.” Mr Johnson said while he had been a critic of Mr Trump before he was elected president, he found him “extremely gracious” when they met in New York in January.

“He said, rather mystifyingly, how often he was mistaken for me! Which I thought was a low blow,” he said.

Asked about what he made of Mr Trump’s affinity for Mr Putin, Johnson believed the US president had handled his Russian counterpart well.

He also said that the UK is determined to become more active in the Indo Pacific region once it finalises its exit from the European Union, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says.

Mr Johnson said Britain would strengthen its relationship with ASEAN after its split with the EU is final in 2019, as well as develop trade, military and security ties across the region.

“There is nowhere more exciting to do that than here in the Indo-Pacific; here where there is a third of the global economy, around two thirds of the global population — here where the growth is,” he told a crowd of about 200 people at the Lowy Institute’s annual lecture on Thursday.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivers the 2017 Lowy Lecture. Picture: AAP

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson delivers the 2017 Lowy Lecture. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

“And that is why we have decided once again that the UK must be more present, more active, and more engaged in this region.”

Mr Johnson said Britain aimed to have good relationships with all major countries in the region, including China, Japan and India as well as Australia and New Zealand.

And he flagged that Britain would not shy away from playing a role in maintaining order and weighing in on issues such as China’s military build up in the South China Sea.

Mr Johnson, who led Brexiteers to victory in last year’s referendum in Britain, also talked up the UK’s prospects once its divorce from the EU is finalised in 2019.

And to anyone who thought Britain could not succeed on its own in the world, Mr Johnson invoked the classic Aussie saying: “Don’t come the raw prawn with me.” In making his case for Brexit he asked the audience — which included Treasurer Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and business leaders — to consider what Australia would have done if it had joined the EU as it has done the Eurovision singing competition.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Picture: AFP

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

“I think we can look at Australia today and after 26 years of continuous growth, and with per capita GDP 25 per cent higher than in the UK, I think we can say that it was not absolutely necessary for Australia to join the Common Market,” he said.

“When we look at what Australia has achieved, we can see grounds for boundless excitement and optimism.”

Australia and Britain pledged to strengthen their military alliance during the ninth annual AUKMIN talk in Sydney on July 27, where British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with Australian ministers. Johnson appeared alongside Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Minister for Defence Marise Payne. During the conference the two countries said they would be cooperating on military activities in Asia, including the sharing of military and intelligence assets. In light of the recent attacks in Manchester and London Bridge, the countries said they would trade notes on conducting domestic counter-terrorism operations. During the conference, Johnson said the UK would reaffirm “our shared goal of concluding a free trade agreement as soon as possible” after leaving the EU, with Bishop adding the two countries were “natural partners”. Credit: UK in Australia via Storyful

Mr Johnson, who is in Sydney for three days of talks with Australian government ministers, reiterated his desire that Britain sign a free trade deal with Australia soon after Brexit, saying he hoped it would be “at or near the front of the queue”.

Mr Johnson’s Lowy Lecture followed a day of talks with Ms Bishop and UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Australia’s Defence Minister Marise Payne, with all ministers agreeing to strengthen trade and security ties.

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