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Britain seeks to soothe Brexit tensions with France

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives to attend a meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in London, on October 29, 2018, ahead of the presentation of the government’s annual budget to Parliament. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Britain’s foreign minister will seek to ease tensions with France caused by Brexit on Thursday with a speech that will pay tribute to the “bonds of friendship and commerce” between the countries, his office said.

France has taken a hard line in the Brexit negotiations, with President Emmanuel Macron insistent that Britain should not be allowed to negotiate advantages for itself as it withdraws from the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also raised hackles in Paris last month when he compared the EU to the Soviet Union and suggested its members were trying to punish Britain for leaving.

But in Thursday’s speech at the British embassy in Paris, Hunt will tell the audience — in French — that the neighbours will “remain tied by bonds of friendship and commerce for decades to come.”

Three days ahead of the 100th anniversary of World War I, when Britain and France allied against Germany, he is set to emphasise the historic Franco-British partnership.

“It was a war in which our destinies as nations were yoked together -– in which we fought and bled side by side for over four years –- and in which, in the end, we prevailed,” according to a transcript.

“It is a relationship of competition and cooperation, similarity and difference,” he will add.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29 next year, but details of its withdrawal treaty have yet to be agreed.

Hopes that a deal could finally be sealed at a November summit meeting have faded in recent days.

The issue is set to be discussed between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday when they meet in northern France for a ceremony to mark the World War I Armistice.

Hunt’s speech reflects Britain’s desire — reciprocated in Paris — to maintain close ties with France after Brexit despite the tricky negotiations and sometimes over-heated rhetoric.

Recent reports in the British tabloid media have suggested French ports are preparing to stall trade with Britain after Brexit — something categorically denied in France.

The countries are Europe’s two biggest military powers and the second and third-biggest economies, after Germany’s.


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