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In New Zealand, Johnson parries queries on British politics

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson brushed aside questions Tuesday in New Zealand about infighting in his Conservative Party and speculation about him making a leadership bid.

Johnson used his renowned wit to parry questions during a joint media conference with New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee, following a meeting with Brownlee and Prime Minister Bill English.

Asked about British politics, Johnson said he’d been traveling in Japan and now New Zealand.

“Any such activity’s completely passed me by,” he said. “Nor am I aware, no-one has sent me any news of any such infighting.”

He said that last month’s snap election, which left Prime Minister Theresa May severely weakened, hadn’t gone to plan.

“The election did not evolve entirely in the way that the government had hoped for or would have wanted,” he said. “OK. I’m going to put that out there. But, but, but, the Labour Party did not win.”

He said the government still had a workable majority.

Asked about whether he was contemplating a bid to become prime minister, Johnson said the British people want a government that gets on with the job.

“They’ve got that with Theresa,” he said. “And we are going to deliver a great Brexit deal. A deal that works for our European friends, for the U.K., but also, of course, works for New Zealand.”

Pressed again on whether he could rule out a leadership bid, Johnson said the British people “see no vacancy nor do they see any need for any more political kerfuffle.”

Johnson said he had agreed with his New Zealand counterparts on many issues, including the threat that North Korea posed, sharing intelligence information, and fighting terrorism.

“I think to an almost embarrassing degree there was a total failure to disagree on any point of substance,” he said.

He said New Zealand was at, or near, the top of Britain’s list for countries it wanted to complete a free trade deal with once it had left the European Union.

Asked whether the access of New Zealanders to Britain through ancestry or working holiday visas would be affected by Brexit, Johnson said Britain would remain open to talent but the country also needed to manage and control immigration.

“That does not mean that we are in any way going to make life more difficult for New Zealanders,” he said. “On the contrary, we massively value, we love kiwis coming to our country.”

Brownlee said Brexit doesn’t mean an end to the strong relationship that New Zealand enjoys with Britain. He said the priority in any free trade agreement with Britain would be to protect the current access New Zealand has to British markets through the EU.

While in New Zealand, Johnson also visited the quake-affected township of Kaikoura and unveiled a striking British memorial at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. He was due to travel to Australia later on Tuesday.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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