Prime Minister Bill English will return to New Zealand today after his first trip overseas as PM, to Europe where discussion on Brexit and the election of Donald Trump dominated. The Herald went along to see how he went and he spoke to Claire Trevett in Berlin about his trip.

Q: You've walked a tightrope on not taking sides in Brexit. How difficult has it been not to get drawn in and was there sensitivity about New Zealand's historical links with the UK?

A: I think there was some sensitivity about whether we respected the fact that there has been a lot of investment by the EU in doing a trade agreement with us, and that we didn't jump the queue to try and make some arrangement with the UK when they still haven't left and won't for some time.

I think they respected the fact we were clear we were negotiating an agreement with the EU and with the UK when it was appropriate - but not before.

READ MORE: Claire Trevett: Bill English has a smile for every encounter
Q: You went to some lengths to spell out that the EU deal was the priority. Were you wary of linking yourself too closely with the UK?


A: well, a) because it is a valuable agreement but secondly because at the moment [the EU] are particularly sensitive to how they are regarded and whether someone who is a traditional friend of the UK has sufficient respect for them because that will help get the deal done. They're not going to put themselves too far on securing an agreement if we didn't respect the fundamental relationship with them.

Q: in terms of personal rapport, who did you get on best with?

A: I got on well with all of them. We have different interests with them, so with President Tusk [European Council] we have a common personal interest in his exercise regime. With Mrs May its a common interest in social policy and with Mrs Merkel it's, well, she's just a remarkable leader. She was particularly interested in my family connections here because they don't expect that.

Q: What, do you have German ancestry like Donald Trump?

A: No, I don't. I've got a niece here and we've hosted German students and that's all.

Q: You've spoken of New Zealand being a low priority for Trump. Given the interesting comments he's made about other leaders, would you like it to remain that way?

A; [laughs] well, I don't expect to be the subject of a tweet in the next few weeks, that's for sure.

Q: Did any of the leaders talk about the changeover from John Key to yourself?


A: Mrs Merkel did, I think she's the one who knew him best. She remembered him fondly. She just asked after him.

Q: Have you been pleased with the way you've gone?

A: I haven't really reflected on that. There's a job to do with these leaders which is to get New Zealand's interests across, and do what we need relevant to our interests in the context of building personal relationships. And we will get to see how well that went as time goes by. But I am satisfied we got New Zealand's interest around the free trade agreement across. I think we got the best out of the leaders in terms of their views of the complex issues they are dealing with and a rough idea of how they are thinking about them so that we can go home and work on how to deal with some of the waves that are coming our way.

Q: At one point you joked about the range of questions you got from the media. Do you appreciate people want to know what drives you now you are PM?

A: Yes I think so. It's a much broader range of issues than just GDP and productivity. I suppose over time people will develop a stronger sense of my personality and values.

Q: Do you remember what you had for lunch [with German Chancellor Angela Merkel]?

A: Ah gosh, I knew you were going to ask me that but I forgot you would. Um, asparagus, a very nice meat. I'm not sure [what kind] - medium rare and it wasn't Weiner schnitzel. And mashed potatoes. Maybe it was the same cook [as at 10 Downing St.]

Q: Are you sure it was mashed potatoes at Downing St, or did you confuse it with the fish?

A: MFAT will know. They're good at telling one white thing on a plate from another.