UK’s chief diplomat begins Brexit bargaining tour

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Jeremy Hunt speaks on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show in London, Britain May 7, 2017. REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s new foreign minister began his first major international trip with a visit to China yesterday, bidding to strengthen trade ties with Beijing ahead of Brexit next year.

“The UK and China are both major powers with a global perspective,” said foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in a statement issued ahead of the visit.

“As the UK leaves the EU and becomes ever-more outward-looking, we are committed to deepening this vital partnership for the 21st century.”

Following the China summit Mr Hunt is scheduled to travel to Paris and Vienna for further talks with his European counterparts on Brexit.

It was revealed last week that British Prime Minister Theresa May was despatching ministers to the 27 member states of the EU in a bid to broker back-door agreements after Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier shot down her Brexit plan.

An agreement on Britain’s divorce from the trading bloc – set for 29 Mar ch 2019 – must be forged in principle within at least three months, before a European summit in mid-October.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials said that in China Mr Hunt – who replaced Boris Johnson after his dramatic resignation over Ms May’s Brexit blueprint earlier this month – will hold “extensive discussions” with Chinese state counsellor and minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi.

Further topics on the table are expected to be “the importance of multilateralism and free trade and ways the UK and China can work together on global challenges such as climate change, development, security and non-proliferation and enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea”.

In France and Austria “international security issues such as the threat from Russia, the war in Syria, and the Iran (nuclear) deal,” will also be under discussion according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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