April 1, 2017 / 10:20 AM / 4 months ago

British role in European security "unconditional" - foreign minister

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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 31, 2017.Virginia Mayo/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) - Britain's contribution to European security is "unconditional", Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a French newspaper, denying the government had made a veiled threat to reduce cooperation if there was no post-Brexit trade deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May said in a letter to the European Union on Wednesday that "our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened" if Britain left the bloc without a new deal on trade and other matters.

Asked in an interview with France's Le Figaro whether Britain was looking to exchange security cooperation against a trade deal, Johnson said: "No, on the contrary."

"We regard the UK's traditional and historic contribution to the security and stability of Europe as something that is unconditional," he said in the interview published on Saturday.

"We will continue to make this contribution because we believe it is good for the whole of Europe and indeed of the world. It's in our interests as much as anybody else's and we hope this will be one of the ways in which we can continue to work very closely (with the EU) in a deep and special partnership."

Johnson said what Britain wanted was "a strong EU buttressed by a strong UK".

Brexit minister David Davis also said on Thursday that May's words did not amount to a threat.

"This is a statement of the fact that this will be harmful for both of us (Britain and the EU) ... if we don't get a deal. It's an argument for having a deal," he said.

Despite these assurances, May's words were widely interpreted as a veiled threat on both sides of the Channel. The Sun, a pro-Brexit British tabloid newspaper, ran the front-page headline "Your money or your lives" the day after May's letter.

Johnson told Le Figaro he thought the chances of Britain leaving the EU without an agreement were "very small".

The EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said on Friday that the effect of Brexit on the bloc's joint defence and security operations would be minimal.

She said she expected security and defence cooperation between Britain and the EU to continue after Brexit, not least through NATO.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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