New British foreign minister and top Brexit backer Boris Johnson pledged Monday Britain would continue to play a leading role in Europe as he met his European Union peers for the first time.
“We have to give effect to the will of the people and leave the European Union but… we are not going in any way to abandon our leading role in European participation,” Johnson said.
He said he had had a “very good conversation” on the subject with EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini late Sunday — although his dinner with her was called off after his plane had to make an emergency landing. “I am very much looking forward to meeting my colleagues,” he added.
Johnson was a key player in the June 23 Brexit referendum and his appointment last week stunned many in Europe, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault saying he had lied to voters during the campaign.
He also infuriated many by comparing the EU’s ambitions for closer integration to Adolf Hitler’s.
Mogherini, arriving just after Johnson at a regular EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, said the two had had “a good exchange on the main issues on the agenda today.”
She refused to be drawn on Britain’s negotiations for its departure from the bloc, which EU leaders insist can only start once London invokes Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to trigger the divorce. Britain remains a member of the EU until those negotiations are completed, she added.