Leaving EU 'does not mean leaving Europe': UK's Boris Johnson

AFP , Thursday 14 Jul 2016

Boris Johnson
Newly appointed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on July 13, 2016 after new British Prime Minister Theresa May took office. (Photo: AFP)

Leaving the European Union "does not mean leaving Europe", Britain's new foreign minister and leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson said Thursday.

"On Europe, clearly we have to give effect to the will of the people in the referendum, but that does not mean in any sense leaving Europe," he told reporters outside the Foreign Office.

"There is a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe, which if anything are going to be intensified."

In one of her first acts as prime minister Wednesday, Theresa May named Johnson the country's top diplomat, stunning observers who had written off the gaffe-prone former London mayor after he pulled out of the race to succeed May's predecessor David Cameron two weeks ago.

Johnson said he had had a "very, very busy" first day on the job, with US counterpart John Kerry among the first to call with congratulations.

"His view was that post-Brexit, and after the negotiations, what he really wants to see -- and I think this is the right thing for the UK -- is more Britain abroad, a greater global profile. And I think we now have the opportunity to achieve that," Johnson said.

He shrugged off criticism from his European peers, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who accused him of having "lied a lot" during the Brexit campaign.

"After a vote like the referendum result on June 23, it's inevitable that there is going to be a certain amount of plaster coming off the ceilings in the chancelleries of Europe," Johnson said.

But, he added: "I have to say, the French foreign minister in fact has sent me a charming letter just a couple of hours ago saying how much he looked forward to working together and to deepening Anglo-French cooperation in all sorts of areas."

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