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Britain appeals to Berlin for Brexit cooperation and end to Saudi arms embargo

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt outside Downing Street in London, Feb, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has visited Berlin today to urge cooperation in Brexit negotiations and future security matters.

At the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Hunt discussed the shared values of openness and democracy that underpin the British-German relationship and recalled moments in history when “we are part of something greater than ourselves,” such as during the Allied Airlift of 1948 which saved millions of Berliners from starvation during Stalin’s blockade of the city.

He said such events transcend individuals, nations, and “transcend Brexit.”

“Britain is not going away, we are not relocating our island… our two countries may no longer be bound by the structures of the European Union, but we will remain part of a wider alliance, an alliance of values.”

The bulk of Hunt’s speech was focused on how leaving the EU shouldn’t harm the German-UK relationship. “It would be enormous mistake if Europe were to allow Brexit or other internal challenges to make us introspective.” Hund said, urging “our European friends” to approach the crucial final stage of Brexit negotiations in the spirit of win-win openness. 

Hunt said he believed the Brexit deal could be approved by parliament if the British attorney-general was able to change his advice on its implications for the Irish backstop. He questioned if an extension to the Brexit deadline “really solves anything,” as the last thing people in the UK and EU want is “Brexit paralysis.” 

Whilst in Berlin, Hunt is also scheduled to meet his German counterpart Heiko Mass and the economy minister Peter Altmaier.

In response to a press question about Hunt’s recent letter to foreign minister Heiko Mass, demanding that Germany reconsider its Saudi arms embargo, Hunt said Britain’s politicy with respect to arms exports is one of the strictest in the world, and he would tell Mass that the strategic relationship that the UK has with Saudi Arabia is what allows us to have a huge influence in bringing about peace in Yemen.

The German government announced a complete embargo on weapon sales to Saudi Arabia in November, after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. On Tuesday, Der Spiegel reported on a letter, which Hunt sent to Mass on 7 February, asking Germany to reconsider its ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

According to Spiegel, Hunt accused Germany of hurting the British defense industry, since it is unable to fulfil its orders without German parts needed for missiles and jets. “I am deeply concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European arms industries and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments,” the letter reportedly said.

Hunt cited the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado jets as planes that contain German parts and are affected by the German embargo, and said it was imperative Berlin lift the embargo on these defense projects, or risk “a loss of confidence in the credibility of Germany as a partner.”