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UK's Boris Johnson plays down Conservative rift, NZ near top of trade deal queue

UK's Boris Johnson plays down Conservative rift, NZ near top of trade deal queue
July 25, 2017

WELLINGTON - Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday appeared to deny there was any infighting within the governing Conservative party during a visit to New Zealand, where he said the country was near the top of the queue for a trade deal post-Brexit.

Johnson played down recent media reports in London of infighting in the Conservative party along the lines of the Leave-Remain rifts it suffered during the referendum.

Britain kicked off a first full round of negotiations with the European Union last week, a year after Britons voted narrowly to leave the European Union, but their government seemed at war with itself over the divorce terms.

Asked whether the infighting within the party could compromise Britain's ability to clinch a timely, post-Brexit deal with the EU, Johnson said:

"I don't wish in any way to sound complacent but I have been traveling in Japan and the now beautiful New Zealand and any such activities completely passed me by .... no one has sent me news of any such infighting," Johnson told a news conference in Wellington.

"Our friends and partners around the world can be confident that we are going to get this thing done and done in style."

Johnson, whose backing helped secure a four-point victory for the Leave camp in June last year, said that no one would be worse off as a result of Brexit including New Zealand. He said New Zealand was near the front of the queue for a trade deal with Britain once the latter left the European Union.

Johnson said Brexit is not about Britain turning away from the world but, on the contrary, it is about "rediscovering and intensifying friendships and partnerships around the world." "In trying to do that we see New Zealand at or near the front of the queue."

Neither Johnson nor New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee gave many specifics on the details and timing of a future deal. Asked whether this would happen any time soon, Brownlee said: "They have to formally exit the European Union before they can engage in those discussions," he said. -Reuters