26 Jun 2016

Key hesitant over Brexit advantages

11:53 am on 26 June 2016

Brexit - Prime Minister John Key is sceptical that Brexit will mean better access for New Zealand goods or people into the United Kingdom or the European Union.

Prime Minister John Key talks to media outside of Rainbows End. 16 June 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

New Zealand is in the process of wanting to negotiate a free trade agreement with Europe and will seek a fresh deal with the UK in the longer term, he said yesterday.

Mr Key said the core of the debate in the UK had largely been about immigration.

"It's hard to believe a new Prime Minister is all of a sudden going to say 'we'll let lots of people in even if they're coming from countries that historically they've been pretty friendly with'.

"At the margins it might help in terms of access with people but I don't think it will be significant."

Mr Key said he had not been in touch with anti-Brexit British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said after the vote he would step down from the role by October.

The favourite to replace him is former London mayor Boris Johnson, who threw his weight behind the leave campaign - and it was expected a new leader of the ruling Conservative Party would likely spark a snap election in the UK.

See full coverage of the vote

Mr Key said he had huge respect for Mr Cameron who he believed has done a lot for the British people, but he said stepping down from the role was the only step Mr Cameron could take.

"I'll always count him as a friend and I've enjoyed working alongside him - as I've always said in the past too when leaders change, my responsibility as Prime Minister of New Zealand is to form the best relationship I can with the new leader and that's what we'll set about doing."

British High Commissioner in New Zealand Jonathan Sinclair was at pains to stress the New Zealand and British relationship was very strong and he did not expect too much to change.

"We will remain very close friends and allies over the next two years and beyond."

Robert Ayson (left) and Jonathan Sinclair during a panel discussion at parliament. Wellington 25 February 2015

British High Commissioner Jonathan Sinclair Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

Mr Sinclair said that personally he had voted to remain and was disappointed with the result of the referendum, but it was an extraordinary exercise in democracy and the will of the people would now be respected.

He said Britain was a proud country and it would come through the exit while focusing on making sure the next steps were calm and deliberate.

The process of withdrawal would be followed carefully and Britain would remain engaged in the world, he said.

Mr Sinclair said that while the UK would remain part of the EU over the next two years, it would also remain a strong advocate for New Zealand's free trade agreement with Europe.

It was important to recognise that only one thing had changed - that Britain would no longer be part of the European Union, Mr Sinclair said.

There were also already very strong systems in place in terms of the movement of people between Britain and New Zealand.

"New Zealanders against the backdrop of high levels of immigration in the UK have the best possible visa regime of any country in the world really," he said.

He said last year New Zealanders were issued more work visas than Canada, Japan, Pakistan or China, and that nothing had changed in that regard.

He said it was too soon to tell how new trade negotiations would work and it would be done under fresh British leadership.

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