'We can still be friends': UK foreign secretary tries to soothe Brexit tensions with France

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'We can still be friends': UK foreign secretary tries to soothe Brexit tensions with France
Photo: UK in France

Britain's foreign minister sought to ease tensions with France caused by Brexit on Thursday in a speech given in French that paid tribute to the "bonds of friendship and commerce" between the countries. But he insisted there would e no second referendum.


France has taken a hard line in the Brexit negotiations, with President Emmanuel Macron insistent that Britain should not be allowed to negotiate advantages for itself as it withdraws from the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also raised hackles in Paris last month when he compared the EU to the Soviet Union and suggested its members were trying to punish Britain for leaving.

But in Thursday's speech at the British embassy in Paris, Hunt told the audience -- in French -- that the neighbours will "remain tied by bonds of friendship and commerce for decades to come."

Three days ahead of the 100th anniversary of World War I, when Britain and France allied against Germany, he emphasised the historic Franco-British partnership.

"It was a war in which our destinies as nations were yoked together -- in which we fought and bled side by side for over four years -- and in which, in the end, we prevailed," Hunt said.

"It is a relationship of competition and cooperation, similarity and difference," he added.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29 next year, but details of its withdrawal treaty have yet to be agreed.

Hopes that a deal could finally be sealed at a November summit meeting have faded in recent days but he reiterated the prime minister's stance that a second referendum would be undemocratic.

The issue is set to be discussed between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday when they meet in northern France for a ceremony to mark the World War I Armistice. 

Hunt's speech reflects Britain's desire -- reciprocated in Paris -- to maintain close ties with France after Brexit despite the tricky negotiations and sometimes over-heated rhetoric.

Hunt tried to reassure the French that Britain will not pursue “a race to the bottom” after it leaves the European Union seeking to allay European concerns that Britain might seek to diverge sharply from European regulations.

“We have offered a framework for our future relationship which should give you confidence that we are not going to pursue a race to the bottom,” Hunt said.

Recent reports in the British tabloid media have suggested French ports are preparing to stall trade with Britain after Brexit -- something categorically denied in France.

The countries are Europe's two biggest military powers and the second and third-biggest economies, after Germany's.


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Anonymous 2018/11/08 22:05
What does Jeremy Hunt mean, a second referendum would be undemocratic?<br />The first one was undemocratic in that a large proportion of those who would be affected where barred from voting.<br />Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May`s government are self serving, economic with the truth and don't give a damn about us ex-pats.<br />May I remind them that the referendum on staying or leaving the EU was not legally binding.

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