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Johnson: UK will not block EU defense policy

December 2, 2016

The UK foreign secretary says Britain will not impede further EU security integration, as it prepares to leave the bloc. Johnson also conceded that Trump is right to broach other NATO members' spending contributions.

Boris Johnson Chatham House
Image: picture-alliance/empics/G. Fuller

"There is a conversation going on now about the EU's desire to build a common security and defense policy, new architecture for that," UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the Royal Institute of International Affairs on Friday.

"If they want to do that fine ... We are not there to block or to impede further steps towards EU integration."

Johnson's comments appeared to break away from the ruling Conservative Party's line on EU defense. Defense minister Michael Fallon has previously said he would stop the creation of an EU army while Britain remained in the bloc as it would undermine NATO.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said the government did not agree with the notion of a European defense force. Any EU defense policy should compliment rather than duplicate NATO, the UK government has said.

UK committed to fulfill NATO obligations

Johnson also used the talk to reaffirm Britain's commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but called for greater spending by other members. "Our resolve to fulfill our NATO obligations will be unbreakable," he said.

Johnson conceded that US President-elect Donald Trump had a point about other members' defense spending.  "It cannot be justified that one NATO ally – America – accounts for about 70 percent of the alliance's defense spending while the other 27 countries manage only 30 per cent between them," the foreign secretary said.

"I want every NATO member to meet the agreed target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense and 20 percent of their defense budget on new equipment. Britain already abides by this target and I note that NATO's most exposed members – including Estonia and Poland – do so as well."

Commitment to global security was becoming increasingly paramount in the face of increasing global turmoil, Johnson said: "We have the cult of the strongman. We have democracy in retreat. We have an arc of instability across the Middle East from Iraq to Syria to Libya." 

"We work on security with our European friends – and as I have said before, our role is to be a flying buttress, supportive of the EU project, but outside the main body of the church."

"Now is the time to build a new and productive relationship, based on friendship and free trade, and a new European partnership where we continue to develop our work on things that matter to all of us in Europe."

Johnson remains tight-lipped on Brexit

Johnson remained tight lipped on details of the British government's plans for its departure from the EU, shedding little light on what form Brexit would take.

Prime Minister Theresa May had already given a "very clear picture" of how they would proceed, Johnson said. May has said she plans from the jurisdiction of EU law and from the judgments of the European court, and use Brexit as a springboard for Britain to agitate global free trade and negotiate new deals.

"From those two points you can draw all the necessary conclusions about how we see the future,” Johnson told Chatham House.

However, despite splitting from the bloc, Johnson reaffirmed Britain's desire to maintain a strong relationship with the continent: "Brexit emphatically does not mean a Britain that turns in on herself. Yes - a country taking back control of its democratic institutions but not a nation hauling up the drawbridge or slamming the door."

"[Britain is] a country that is politically and economically and morally fated to be more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before."

aw,dm/xx (Reuters, AP)

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