10 Jul

'Julie Bishop pays tribute to departing Boris Johnson' RACHEL BAXENDALE, The Australian

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she had developed a strong friendship with Boris Johnson and will miss him as her UK counterpart, but expects a smooth transition in Australia-UK relations after Mr Johnson joined Brexit minister David Davis in resigning from Theresa May’s cabinet, leaving her fighting to stay in charge.

Mr Johnson, who has been replaced as foreign secretary by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, had denounced Ms May’s Brexit plans, saying they would leave the UK “a colony of the European Union”.

Ms Bishop said Australia and the UK were yet to work out whether an upcoming AUKMIN meeting between the Australian and UK governments in Edinburgh would go ahead in its current format.

Asked whether the resignations were the “beginning of the end” for the May government, Ms Bishop said there were obviously “significant challenges” in relation to Brexit.

“First there are negotiations to be had within the government to agree on a negotiating mandate, and then of course there must be negotiations with the European Union, so there are some challenging times ahead for the government, but I’m confident that the British government will achieve a negotiating mandate and then negotiate a positive outcome with the European Union,” Ms Bishop said.

“I hope that Australia will be able to continue our discussions with the United Kingdom regarding a free-trade agreement with Australia when the time is appropriate.”

Asked whether she was concerned that Australia’s good relationship with Britain through Mr Johnson may be lost under Mr Hunt, Ms Bishop said she was looking forward to meeting the new foreign secretary as soon as possible.

“He will of course want to put his own stamp on Britain’s foreign policy, but we have achieved much together over a number of years,” she said.

“I have been Foreign Minister of Australia for five years.

“There have been a number of British foreign secretaries in that time, and there is always a close and deep engagement between Australia and the United Kingdom. We are close friends. We are close allies. We are very strong trading partners.”

Asked whether she believed Mr Johnson would make a good prime minister, amid speculation he may challenge Ms May, Ms Bishop said she would not enter into commentary on the internal workings of the Tory Party.

“What Australia wants to see is stability and certainty and we want to continue working with the UK government on matters of concern to us, and that includes a free-trade agreement when the time is appropriate,” she said.

Asked whether she was concerned that a “soft Brexit” of the kind being pursued by Ms May would compromise Australia’s free trade opportunities, Ms Bishop said it was “early days”.

“The negotiating position within the (UK) government has to be determined,” she said.

“Then there will be very long and protracted negotiations with the European Union.

“So it’s very early days. We obviously are watching the matter very closely, but we hope to be in a position to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United Kingdom after they have exited from the European Union.”

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