BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Britain will remain committed to the security and defence of Central Europe after Brexit, and will protect the rights of Hungarians working in the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.
After meeting Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Budapest, Johnson said without elaborating that he assumed Britons living in Hungary would get a “good” deal too.
The future rights of UK nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living in Britain has been a leading issue in talks about Britain’s planned departure from the European Union.
“It is vital to stress that the UK will remain committed to the security and defence of our friends in Central Europe,” Johnson told a news conference.
“It is vital that we protect their (Hungarians in the UK) rights, that we give them the encouragement they need ... the reassurance they need.”
The British government said on Wednesday that EU citizens arriving in Britain during a post-Brexit transition period would be able to apply for indefinite leave to stay in the country but their rights would be governed by British, not EU law.
Curbing immigration was a key reason Britons voted to leave the EU in 2016, following a large influx of EU citizens, especially from poorer countries in eastern Europe.
The Hungarian government, which is pursuing a fierce anti-immigration campaign ahead of April elections, shares Britain’s insistence that national sovereignty be protected in the EU.
There are million central eastern Europeans, including many Poles, Hungarians and Romanians working in the UK, with London frequently dubbed as “the second biggest Hungarian town” after Budapest. East European states also fear they could lose out on some of the EU’s development funds if the EU budget is cut back after Britain leaves.
Szijjarto reiterated that Hungary wanted to see a “fair” Brexit deal, which would ensure the broadest possible free trade agreement and a very close continuing security cooperation with Britain, as well as protection of the rights of Hungarians’ working in Britain.
In a much-anticipated speech which the EU hopes will offer details of her plan for Britain’s future after Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May will set out her vision on Friday for a Brexit deal deeper and wider than any “free trade agreement anywhere in the world”.
Johnson was also asked about recent comments by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in an interview with Euronews that the two workable options were a clean break Brexit or staying in a reforming Europe.
“If he says he is against the wrong kind of Brexit, whilst he is against soft Brexit, well then he is against some hopeless compromise, then ... so am I. And so I think he is unusually accurate.”
Reporting by Krisztina Than, Editing by William Maclean