Britain's Hunt Does Not See Imminent Brexit Deal
Britain's foreign minister played down Thursday the prospect of an imminent deal on Brexit and called for greater efforts to be made in the negotiations to "understand the other's perspective."
After a speech in Paris that sought to soothe tensions with France caused by Britain's exit from the European Union, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked if a deal was within reach in the next week.
"Seven days is probably pushing it, but I am optimistic that there will be a Brexit deal but I wouldn't want to be drawn on a specific timescale," he told an audience at the British embassy.
Negotiators have been racing the clock to try to agree the outlines of a withdrawal agreement that could be approved at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels this month, but hopes are fading.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Wednesday that "more work is needed" in the talks.
Hunt used his speech, delivered in French, to pay tribute to the "bonds of friendship and commerce" between Britain and France and to make the case for the closest possible relationship between the allies after Brexit.
France has taken a hard line in the negotiations, with President Emmanuel Macron insistent that Britain should not be allowed to negotiate advantages for itself as it withdraws from the European Union.
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.
"I an absolutely certain that France is keen to reach an agreement," Hunt said. "Not reaching an agreement is in no one's interest."
Addressing concerns in the French government that Britain wants to withdraw from the EU but retain the same trading advantages, Hunt said that London was "not... trying to have 'our cake and eat it'."
Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29 next year but talks on its exit remain held up by disagreements over managing the border between EU member Ireland and the British-ruled province of Northern Ireland.
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 end of World War I.
Hunt's speech reflected Britain's desire -- reciprocated in Paris -- to maintain close ties after Brexit despite the tricky negotiations and sometimes overheated 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 its second- and third-biggest economies, after Germany.