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.


Brits in Europe still face complex post-Brexit cases, rights’ group warns

Resources for Brits in Europe to overcome any problems regarding post-Brexit residency issues are being cut just when some people need them most, citizens' rights group British in Europe has warned.

Brits in Europe still face complex post-Brexit cases, rights' group warns

While the implementation of the Brexit agreement on citizens’ rights has gone “relatively smoothly” in some countries, “resources allocated to the rights of UK citizens in the EU are being reduced drastically” at a time of “a rise in serious and complex cases,” warned British in Europe co-founder Jane Golding at a recent meeting of the House of Lord’s European Affairs Committee.

Golding was participating in an evidence session on Tuesday, together with representatives of EU citizens in the UK and Dr Kathryn Chamberlain, CEO of the UK Independent Monitoring Authority overseeing the implementation of EU citizens’ rights under the withdrawal agreement.

The session followed up on an enquiry carried out in 2021 and will set the basis for a “substantial letter” to the UK government.

Golding said that the experience of British citizens varies depending on EU countries.

“Systems for applications for residents have gone relatively smoothly in some countries, for example, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hungary and Austria.

But in others, they have not,” she said.

Golding cited Sweden as a “big example”, where the rate of refusals is “statistically higher than in other comparable countries, at around 11 to 16 per cent”.

“We have seen cases like a family of four with young children facing an order to leave and the recent well publicised case in the media of a 74 year old lady with Alzheimer’s, living in a care home, who also faced an order to leave”. She added that in Sweden there are more than 900 late residence applications from British citizens under the withdrawal agreement and the current refusal rate is around 60 per cent.

Golding also mentioned problems in Denmark, Portugal and Malta.

As funding for the support network on citizens rights in UK Embassies across the EU was terminated at the end of March 2023 and people rely on volunteer groups for advice, Golding called on the government to maintain support services in place.

She also urged Whitehall to introduce secondary legislation on voting rights so that Britons abroad can have their own representatives in Westminster. The full session can be watched here.