Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson. Photo: AFP
Boris Johnson said it would not be in anyone's interest to penalise Britain for exiting the European Union, comparing proposed trade tariffs to punishments meted out to escaped prisoners in World War II movies.
His comments came a day after Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed Britain would leave Europe's single market and warned the EU against imposing harsh terms on its divorce from the bloc.
“I think that if Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in manner of some sort of World War II movie, than I don't think that is the way forward,” he told delegates at a political conference in New Delhi.
“I think it's actually not in the interest of our friends and our partners.”
May said on Tuesday that Britain would look to strike a new customs agreement with the EU, which accounted for 44 percent of the country's exports in 2015.
But French President Francois Hollande has consistently said Britain would not be granted better trading terms outside the single market.
On Wednesday, Johnson said Britain's decision to exit the single market did not mean it wanted to stop having access to EU countries.
“We should be working together. It seems absolutely incredible to me that in the 21st century, the European Union… should be seriously contemplating the introduction of tariffs or whatever to administer punishment to UK,” he said.
“And don't forget, these things cut both ways. After all, the Germans, as is well known, export one-fifth of their motor manufacturing output.”
The British foreign secretary is due to meet India's prime minister and finance minister during his two-day trip to the country.
Britain has made clear its desire to boost trade with India, the world's fastest-growing major economy.
“I think time is fast upon us that we need to turbo charge this relationship with a new free trade deal such as we would shortly be able to do,” Johnson said.
“We can't negotiate it now but we can sketch it out in pencil, on the back of an envelope,” he added.
Johnson's words were blasted by some British politicians.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This is an utterly distasteful comment Boris is our chief diplomat, how can he say such things? It’s crass and he is clueless.
“I understand Boris loves a World War Two analogy and likens himself to Churchill. But one was the greatest ever Britain, a war leader, and the other is Boris, who goes round the world as Foreign Secretary apologising to all the nations he has offended over the years.”