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Boris Johnson said it would not be in anyone’s interest to penalise Britain for exiting the European Union, comparing the proposed trade tariffs to punishments meted out to escaped prisoners in World War II movies.
His comments came a day after Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that Britain would leave Europe’s single market and warned the EU against imposing harsh terms on its divorce from the bloc.
“I think that if Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some sort of World War II movie, then I don’t think that is the way forward,” he told delegates at a political conference in New Delhi.
“I think it’s actually not in the interest of our friends and our partners.”
EU makes up 44% of UK’s exports
May said on Tuesday that Britain would look to strike a new customs agreement with the EU, which accounted for 44 percent of the country’s exports in 2015.
But French President François Hollande has consistently said Britain would not be granted better trading terms outside the single market.
On Wednesday, Johnson said Britain’s decision to exit the single market did not mean it wanted to stop having access to EU countries.
“We should be working together. It seems absolutely incredible to me that in the 21st century, the European Union… should be seriously contemplating the introduction of tariffs or whatever to administer punishment to UK,” he said.
“And don’t forget, these things cut both ways. After all, the Germans, as is well known, export one-fifth of their motor manufacturing output [to the UK].”
His comments about “punishment beatings” were promptly condemned by Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament and the parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator. Verhofstadt described Johnson’s jibe about Hollande as “abhorrent and deeply unhelpful”. He also urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to condemn Johnson’s remarks.
Opposition Labour Member of Parliament Wes Streeting said, “Nobody who wants to see a good Brexit deal for Britain should welcome these crass comments…. we need to negotiate in good faith and with courtesy with our European partners.”
The leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, also rounded on Johnson: “This is an utterly crass and clueless remark from the man who is supposed to be our chief diplomat.”
However, the British prime minister appeared to be standing by her foreign minister in the wake of the uproar, with an official spokesperson stating that Johnson “was not in any way suggesting anyone was a Nazi”.
The Downing Street spokesperson added that his remarks were “being hyped up” and that Johnson had used a “theatrical comparison”
The British foreign secretary is due to meet India’s prime minister and finance minister during his two-day trip to the country. Britain has made clear its desire to boost trade with India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy.