Britain's Johnson to hold first Brussels talks Sunday

AFP , Friday 15 Jul 2016

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves the Foreign Office in central London, July 15, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

New British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will meet Sunday with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, but she has scrapped a dinner for him and his 27 counterparts to discuss Brexit, officials said.

Brussels is the first trip abroad for Johnson -- who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum -- since he was appointed on Wednesday by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Former London mayor Johnson and Mogherini will "meet Sunday evening for an initial contact," her spokeswoman Catherine Ray said, before a full meeting of all 28 EU foreign ministers on Monday.

But contrary to what had been planned, "there will be no dinner for foreign ministers Sunday evening," she said without giving a reason for the change.

The ministers will on Monday formally discuss the conflicts in Syria and Libya as well as the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, including at a breakfast with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Officials in Brussels insist they will welcome Johnson like any new foreign minister to Brussels -- where he lived in the 1990s as a journalist -- even though he had led the British campaign to leave.

May's decision to appoint the eccentric Johnson as Britain's top diplomat raised eyebrows around the world as he is known for his distinctly undiplomatic gaffes about a host of foreign leaders.

During his visit to Brussels, Johnson will hold his first talks with his EU counterparts, including Jean-Marc Ayrault of France who said Johnson "lied a lot" during the referendum campaign.

The Sunday dinner was to have tackled the impact Britain's exit will have on EU foreign policy and its ability to mount military operations, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity. Britain's defence budget is the largest in the bloc.

However, the diplomat said, several EU member governments opposed holding the dinner, saying it would amount to informal negotiations with London before May's cabinet has formally notified Brussels of its intent to leave the bloc.

May has told the leaders of France and Germany that she would "need some time" to prepare for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

Johnson's own influence in the Brexit process may be limited however as she has named leading Conservative eurosceptic David Davis as a special minister for Brexit.

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