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David Lammy Says EU Will Be "Number One Priority" For Labour Foreign Policy

David Lammy campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, but voted for the final Brexit deal in 2020 (Alamy)

5 min read

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has said the European Union will be Labour’s “number one priority” in terms of rebuilding relationships with international allies.

Lammy gave a speech to Chatham House at the start of this year in which he advocated for a “Britain Reconnected” that would be “outside of the EU but a leader in Europe once again”.

Speaking to PoliticsHome, the Labour shadow cabinet minister went further in identifying the EU as the “number one priority” for rebuilding Britain’s reputation as a world leader after the divisiveness of Brexit.

“We’ve been clear that we are not entering back into the single market, but clearly, there's much that we can do in partnership with the European Union," Lammy told PoliticsHome when asked how the UK should begin rebuilding international relationships.

Labour's leader Keir Starmer has confirmed in a piece for the Express that the party would not seek to rejoin the customs union, and added that Labour in power would not see "a return to freedom of movement".

However, Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, reiterated his desire to have a defence pact with the EU, and added that there was “a lot we can do around qualifications”, referring to how there are far fewer European students in UK higher education institutions compared to before Brexit. 

He said that a review of the UK’s trade agreement with the EU, which could take place from 2025, would give a potential Labour government an opportunity to go “sector by sector” to establish where the UK can better work with the EU.

“We need structured dialogue,” he said.

“We need to have that on a regular basis through the course of the year, meeting with our European partners. I want to get back to that.”

Lammy said Labour’s foreign policy mission was to “reconnect us with the global community” because “Britain’s reputation is on the floor”.

Listing what he describes as “fundamental mistakes” by the Conservative government on foreign policy, Lammy lamented a number of policies which he believed have taken the UK in the wrong direction on the world stage. 

“When I travel around the world to many different countries, people say to me that they miss the consistent, predictable role that the UK plays in upholding the rule of law, and the rules based order,” he said. 

“It was a fundamental mistake of this government to basically walk away from an agreement they signed with the European Union, and put on the table the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and jeopardise our position.

“Our reputation is on the floor because we had a prime minister that described our close ally, France, President Macron, as an enemy.

“It's on the floor because we cut aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent and then we're spending the lion's share of that 0.5 per cent domestically here in the UK, not abroad.”

The shadow foreign secretary said that so-called “sabre rattling” on the European Convention on Human Rights had been “very disturbing” to the international community, as part of the rhetoric surrounding the government’s Illegal Migration Bill.

He also claimed that the UK’s reputation had been damaged as the country was seen to have “hoarded vaccines” during the Covid-19 pandemic and not supported developing countries enough in delivering their own vaccine rollouts. 

As a result of these issues, Lammy said there was “a lot of repairing to do” on foreign policy that would go beyond just the EU. 

Rishi Sunak, the first UK prime minister with Indian heritage, has made efforts to shift some foreign policy focus to UK-India relations, setting a trade deal with the south Asian country as a top political priority. 

However, the deal is yet to get over the line, and asked whether Labour would also prioritise relations with the Indo-Pacific region, Lammy said: “We do need to reprioritize our relationship with the European Union.”

But he stressed that it did not have to be a case of “either or” and said it would be important to build on the UK’s significant economic interests in the Indo-Pacific. 

“Important and emerging democracies like India, we must continue to work very closely with,” Lammy said. 

“Let's see where the government gets to with the trade deal with India. I hope it's unlocked in the coming months, because that should not be a partisan issue.

“But of course, if they don't manage to get it over the line, then we do intend to get that trade deal over the line.”

With China emerging as a superpower and war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine, Lammy said it was strongly in the UK’s national interests to engage “diplomatically looking outward”, including working very closely with the US to tackle international threats such as tensions over Taiwan. 

He also identified the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US as important for defence going forward, as well as the recent deal for the UK to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trading bloc.

“It doesn't replicate the European Union, but it's hugely important in terms of our national interest over the next generation,” he said. 

“This is a tough geopolitical environment… The world needs Britain to be pragmatic, flexible, and engage diplomatically looking outward.

“It’s in the interest of the global community, we are too important a country to not be engaged properly across these global issues.”

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