Boris Johnson makes his Brussels debut

242

The newly appointed British foreign minister and pro-Brexit gadfly has arrived in Brussels for his first meeting with his EU counterparts. Topping the agenda will be chaos in Turkey, the attack in Nice, Syria and Libya.

Monday’s gathering in Brussels opened with a breakfast attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and marks Johnson’s foray onto the diplomatic scene after his appointment last week.

It will also be a homecoming of sorts for the former London mayor, who lived in Brussels as a journalist in the 1990s and made a name for himself for writing salacious anti-EU stories that helped stoke euroskepticism in Britain.

But Monday’s talks are expected to focus on the response to the deadly Bastille Day truck attack in Nice and relations with Turkey after a failed military coup and its chaotic aftermath.

European foreign ministers will likely be sizing up the diplomatic credentials of gaffe-prone Johnson, who is well-known for his quips mocking foreign leaders and who once famously compared the EU’s ambitions for closer integration to those of Hitler.

The outspoken former London mayor told reporters that he’ll be delivering a conciliatory tone in his meetings.

“The message I’ll be taking to our friends in the council is that we have to give effect to the will of the people and leave the European Union but that in no sense means that we are leaving Europe,” Johnson told reporters on arrival at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. “We are not going to be in any way abandoning our leading role in European cooperation and participation of all kinds.”

Criticism, praise for a divisive figure

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has gone on record to say that Johnson “lied a lot” during the Brexit referendum campaign in which UK voters narrowly voted to exit the EU.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto praising Britain’s decision to appoint a man “with fresh ideas.”

The UK exit itself will not be on the agenda. EU leaders are adamant they will not be drawn into negotiations until London invokes Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty which gives Britain precisely two years to negotiate its exit.

Monday’s agenda also includes EU-China ties, managing migration and relations with African countries.

jar/kms (AFP, Reuters)

SHARE