UK Politics

Boris Johnson hails 'friends and allies' French following talks

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Media captionBoris Johnson message to the French (in French)

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said he hopes the UK will "be as close as possible to" France after the vote to leave the European Union.

Speaking in French at a Paris press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault he said the two would work together "as friends and allies".

The two discussed terrorism and Channel border controls at their talks.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Theresa May was in Slovakia for talks with Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Mr Johnson's visit to France on Thursday is his first official European bilateral meeting with Mr Ayrault, who has openly criticised the new foreign secretary.

The foreign secretary told the press conference: "I hope I have been clear that even if the UK has voted to leave the EU, it doesn't mean that we will be leaving Europe.

"We wish to be as close as possible to our allies, most particularly France, throughout the forthcoming years."

He thanked Mr Ayrault and said: "We have already started to develop a close and co-operative relationship and I hope it may continue while we face many challenges ahead together as friends and allies."

At the scene, by Adam Fleming in Paris

It came in a whisper from a Foreign Office official, minutes before Boris Johnson arrived to make his statement.

"He's going to do the whole thing in French."

That was probably the most noteworthy thing about the UK foreign secretary's first solo meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Parisian journalists and diplomats agreed that Mr Johnson's French sounded a bit school-boy at the beginning but had improved by the end.

The pair spoke to the press in the Salon de l'Horloge at the Foreign Ministry, the Quai D'Orsay. This was the room where French politicians made the Schuman Declaration, the idea that led to what would eventually become the European Union.

The UK's decision to leave that body was mentioned. Mr Johnson said that the two countries would maintain their strong relationship after Brexit; Mr Ayrault said negotiations should be conducted efficiently, professionally and fairly.

Neither man took questions from journalists so sadly I couldn't ask Mr Ayrault why he had recently called his guest a liar, or to find out whether Mr Johnson still thought the deal for a French company to build the new Hinkley Point nuclear plant was "an extraordinary amount of money".

He said the talks, two days after the murder of a priest by two men who pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State in Normandy, had focused on terrorism and pledged "solidarity" with France.

Mr Ayrault, who was prime minister of France between 2012 and 2014, thanked Mr Johnson for his visit and said he was well known in France, both as a former mayor of London and for his biography of Winston Churchill.

He thanked Mr Johnson for his "solidarity and support" following the recent attacks in Nice and Rouen and said France would keep strengthening security and intelligence work with the UK.

On Brexit, he said France "respects" the vote of the British people adding: "Now the consequences will have to be drawn in terms of organisation, in a co-ordinated way, efficiently, professionally, sincerely and fairly."

Britain would need to define its negotiating position, he said.

Dover delays

France and Britain were united by "historic ties of friendship and co-operation" on issues like defence and migration.

And he said French and British officers and operators had been working "very hard "over the past few days to ensure "smooth crossing" at Dover - where motorists have been left queuing for up to 14 hours - over the holiday weekend, while respecting security measures.

Mr Ayrault has previously accused Mr Johnson, who led the campaign to get the UK out of the EU, of having "lied a lot" to the British public during the referendum campaign.

After meeting at an EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels earlier in July - Mr Johnson's first summit since taking up the post - Mr Ayrault said his British counterpart had arrived with "some humility".

Mr Johnson's remit does not specifically cover negotiations on Britain's exit from the EU, as Mrs May appointed a new post of Brexit secretary, taken up by David Davis.

The meetings for Mrs May are the latest in her diplomatic push ahead of formally triggering the two-year process of withdrawing from the EU - expected to begin early next year.

The prime minister has already met Italian PM Matteo Renzi, Irish PM Enda Kenny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

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