UK 'will not stand in way of closer EU defence links'

Updated: 
2017 Somalia conference

Britain will not stand in the way of closer EU co-operation on defence following Brexit, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson was speaking as he arrived for a summit in Brussels where foreign ministers are due to discuss plans for a new HQ in the Belgian capital for EU military training missions overseas.

The Foreign Secretary confirmed that the UK had reservations about the wording of the agreement, understood to revolve around London's resistance to the centre being called an "operational headquarters".

And he said Britain would continue to stress the need for EU members of Nato to meet the alliance's target of spending 2% of GDP on defence, as the UK does.

Mr Johnson said: "We understand the vital importance to us all as European countries working together to strengthen our defences.

"We all want to see our European friends and partners spending more on defence. If they can get up to 2%, that is terrific. We really want to encourage that as fast as possible.

"If they want to come together with other arrangements, we are not going to stand in their way. We are just working on some of the language to make sure that we get it totally right."

The summit comes as new French president Emmanuel Macron holds his first meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. France and Germany are backing European Commission proposals for a European Defence Fund which have sparked concerns in the UK over the possible creation of an EU army.

Mr Johnson played down suggestions that the other 27 EU foreign ministers might want to discuss his suggestion at the weekend that they will be required to pay a "divorce bill" to the UK as a result of Brexit, rather than Britain paying the EU as much as 100 billion euro (£85 billion) as others expect.

He suggested that any bill was unlikely to be finalised until the whole Brexit package - including new trade arrangements - was agreed.

"There is a kind of unity in these negotiations," said Mr Johnson. "I would expect all this to be done as a bundle, as a package.

"As they say in Brussels: 'Rien n'est acquis avant que tout soit acquis' - Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We have got to look at the money, the whole thing, the trade arrangements, we have got to look at that as a package."

The agenda for the Brussels meeting focused on the problem of illicit migration from Africa, with Mr Johnson saying it is "vital" for countries to work together to resolve the crisis and stabilise countries such as Libya and Somalia.