UK wants to ‘remain best friends’ with EU neighbours: Hunt in Berlin

Britain can only avoid a hard Brexit if it reaches a deal with the EU to resolve the Irish backstop issue, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in Berlin during a speech on the two countries' friendship.

UK wants to 'remain best friends' with EU neighbours: Hunt in Berlin
File picture shows UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt on a previous visit to Berlin. Photo: DPA

“This is really the only way through the current situation,” he said in his speech at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in the German capital, adding that pushing back the Brexit deadline would leave both the UK and EU in “paralysis”.

Hunt also talked about how the UK and Germany's relationship transcended all treaties and was “based on something infinitely more important and durable”.

The infamous “Irish backstop” clause provides for Britain to remain in the EU customs union until a way is found — such as a future free trade deal — to ensure that Ireland's border with Northern Ireland remains open.

Resolving the issue would allow the government to gain parliamentary support for the EU divorce deal and also guarantee the 1998 Belfast peace agreement, he predicted.

“If we can make that change, we are confident we can get the deal through” parliament, he said on the day Prime Minister Theresa May was headed back to Brussels to renew her quest to reopen the terms of the Brexit divorce.

Brexiteers in May's own Conservative party see the backstop as a “trap” to keep Britain in a form of union indefinitely, and have demanded a time limit or a unilateral exit clause.

This would be seen in Brussels as a betrayal of EU member Ireland, and it has consistently got short shrift from EU officials.

Moments in history 'transcend Brexit'

In an impassioned speech, Hunt referenced historical moments, saying he thought of the Berlin Blockade, which arose from an attempt by the Soviet Union in 1948-49 to force Western Allied powers to abandon their jurisdictions in West Berlin, when he landed in Tegel airport.

He also mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago this year, and how it reminded people “never to take liberty for granted”.

He said these moments in history transcend people, nations and “transcend Brexit as well, however absorbing or challenging that may seem”.

“Whatever treaties or organizations our two countries may join or leave, our friendship is based on something infinitely more important and durable,” said Hunt.

“Britain and Germany cherish the same freedoms, defend the same values, respect the same fundamental laws and face the same dangers. We are bound together not simply by institutions but by the beliefs that inspired the creation of these institutions: democracy, openness, equality before the law regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality.”

Hunt added that trading relationships “have always been the first link between countries and they act as the foundation of all other relations”.

“So none of us should have any doubt that failing to secure a ratified withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU would be deeply damaging, politically as well as economically,” he said.

Hunt said that in the “vital” weeks ahead,  “standing back and hoping that Brexit solves itself will not be enough. The stakes are just too high.

“We must all do that we can to see that a deal is reached,” he added.
'People want to move on'

Hunt, speaking on the question of a possible extension on Britain leaving the bloc, questioned whether that “really solves anything”.

“I think the last thing that people in the UK and indeed the rest of the EU want is Brexit paralysis with this issue hanging over Europe like a shadow,” he said. 

“I think people want to move on and they want to demonstrate that we can have a Brexit that respects the referendum result but also that we remain best of friends with our neighbours in Europe.”

May and the other 27 EU leaders approved a Brexit withdrawal agreement at a summit on November 25th last year, but the British leader's own parliament rejected it on January 15th.

Since then, May and her ministers have repeatedly met EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and their negotiator Michel Barnier to urge them to reopen the text to find a way to appease eurosceptic MPs.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.