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UK will play leading role in 'volatile' world post-Brexit - Johnson

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will not play a bit-part on the world stage following its exit from the European Union and must help prevent the emergence of a more brutal world order, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday.

Making his first major foreign policy speech, Johnson, known for his gaffe-prone and often-outlandish persona, said the June 23 Brexit vote did not mean Britain was turning in on itself.

“The world is not now in good shape. Indeed it is more dangerous and volatile than for several decades,” he said.

“We have the cult of the strong man, we have democracy in retreat, we have an arc of instability across the Middle East ... Is it our answer to cower and put our heads under the pillow? Emphatically not,” he added in a speech at think-tank Chatham House.

“We need to redouble our resolve to defend and preserve the best of the rules-based international order,” he said. “If we fail then we risk reverting to an older and more brutal system where the strong are free to bully or devour the weak.”

Britain, he said, was a global player.

“We are not some bit-part or spear-carrier on the world stage. We are a protagonist – a global Britain running a truly global foreign policy.”

Johnson said Britain would not block attempts by the EU to forge a common defence policy. Defence minister Michael Fallon has said he would stop the creation of an EU army while Britain remained in the bloc as it would undermine NATO.

“There is a conversation going on now about the EU’s desire to build a common security and defence policy, new architecture for that,” he said. “If they want to do that fine ... We are not there to block or to impede further steps towards EU integration.”

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the government did not agree with the idea of an EU defence force and that any EU defence policy should complement rather than duplicate NATO.

Britain’s commitment to fulfil its NATO obligations is “unbreakable”, Johnson said, adding that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was right to point out that the alliance should not rely so heavily on one country’s defence spending.

He also said he would seek to “stress some of the positives” of the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump railed against during his election campaign, to the new U.S. administration.

Additional reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison