UNITED NATIONS—British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who led the campaign to leave the European Union said Friday he came to the United Nations to show that far from withdrawing into isolationism the United Kingdom wants to play a greater role on the world stage.
The former mayor of London and journalist who prides himself on provocation responded with uncustomary diplomacy when asked whether his philosophy and Britain’s EU exit vote bore any similarities to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance speech announcement that “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.”
Johnson said it would be wrong to meddle in American politics or the presidential election and the UK government will work with whoever is elected — “but I would draw a very, very strong contrast between ‘Brexit’ and any kind of isolationism.”
On the contrary, Johnson said, one of the main purposes he came to New York and the United Nations was to show that “Brexit means us being more outward looking, more engaged, more energetic, more enthusiastic and committed on the world stage than ever before.”
In a whirlwind day in New York, he met with corporate executives and business journalists and had meetings to discuss a UK initiative to counter propaganda by the Islamic State extremist group in social media and on the Internet.
Johnson then came to U.N. headquarters where he sat in Britain’s seat at the U.N. Security Council and voted with the 14 other members to approve a British-drafted resolution calling on the international community to help Libya dispose of its last stocks of chemical weapons precursors. He met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, spoke briefly to U.N. media, and then went to a reception for council ambassadors and others hosted by the British ambassador.
Johnson said he and Ban talked about Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, “all countries in which the United Kingdom is playing a leading role in trying to bring solutions whether through diplomacy or politically or peacekeeping.” He said they both strongly agree that tackling radicalization and extremism must remain at the forefront of the U.N.’s activities.
Britain is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, along with the United States. Russia, China and France, which gives it a powerful position on international issues.
“It was very much Ban Ki-moon’s wish that the United Kingdom should play an ever greater role through the U.N. and be at the foreront of world affairs and showing leadership,” Johnson said. “I was very glad to reaffirm our determination to work with the U.N. to deliver that.”
Johnson stressed that leaving the EU doesn’t mean leaving Europe.
“We are going to be more committed than ever before to cooperation and participation and support for other European countries whether through defense policy coordination or foreign policy or counter-terrorism … or intelligence sharing in which the UK is a superpower,” he said.
Johnson said he has “absolutely no doubt” that a balance between British access to the EU’s single market and entry to the UK can be struck, noting that this will be discussed in the next few weeks.
“Be in no doubt that this is something where everybody wishes to make fast progress in the economic interest of both of Britain and the European Union,” he said, “and I think there is very much a deal there to be done and the faster we can get on to do it the better.”
Johnson told business journalists it’s in the interests of “our friends” to keep an open relationship.
“We buy a hell of a lot of French wine,” he said.
Johnson was on the hot seat after his appointment by new Prime Minister Theresa May about past criticism of the U.S., Russian and Turkish leaders, among others, but that has died down.
As he left the U.N. media, he said, “I hugely enjoyed my first week as a diplomat.”