Labour looks to build Brussels ties after Brexit by attending meetings

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, says Labour would date the EU if they win the next election
David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, says Labour would date the EU if they win the next election - AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Labour would consider attending the EU’s foreign affairs meetings if it wins the next election as part of a drive to boost relations with Brussels after Brexit.

Party sources said they would speak to the bloc about establishing occasional access to the forum in an attempt to build a more structured dialogue.

They suggested engagement could mirror that of the US, pointing to Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, as one example of an non-EU foreign minister who has attended the meetings in the past.

But they said this was just one option for more formalised co-operation, with the specifics dependent on discussions with the EU in the event Sir Keir Starmer wins the keys to No 10. The party would not be seeking ad-hoc membership or voting rights.

It is the latest signal that Labour would seek closer ties with the EU if they won the next election. Taking a seat at the foreign affairs council would form part of Labour’s plans to kick off a new era of closer relations with the bloc, building on Sir Keir’s bid to seal a new security pact with Brussels as a top priority.

The idea was raised by former Tory foreign secretary Lord Hague after Brexit but never pursued by the Conservatives. Instead, successive administrations have tended to opt for bilateral discussions with individual ministers.

Labour sources said attending the meetings could be one way of establishing a better dialogue with Brussels eight years after the UK voted to leave the EUE, but stressed they are not wedded to the idea.

It comes as shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has set out Labour’s vision for “progressive realism” on the global stage in a 4,000 word piece for the Foreign Affairs magazine.

Discussing Britain’s relationship with Europe, he said it is “ever more important” that the UK develops closer foreign and security ties with the EU, given the need for “burden sharing” as the US shifts its focus towards Asia.

“To handle these changes, it is ever more important that the United Kingdom develop closer foreign and security cooperation with the EU,” he wrote.

“Both parties must be honest about the gravity of this moment. From Ukraine to Gaza and the Sahel [troubled African countries that stretch the southern Sahara region], there is an arc of conflict and instability inside and near Europe’s borders that affects the United Kingdom and the continent’s interests equally.

“Yet the European Union and the British Government have no formal means of cooperation. To address that problem, the United Kingdom must seek a new geopolitical partnership with the EU.”

‘Double down’

He also said that Britain should “double down” on its “close relationships” with France, Germany, Ireland, and Poland – for example, by pursuing a “British-German defence agreement” to complement the similar Lancaster House treaties it signed with France in 2010.

While Labour has been clear that it wants to strengthen ties with the EU on foreign and security issues, Sir Keir has said unequivocally that he has no intention of rejoining the single market or customs union.

Mr Lammy also said the UK must develop a “more consistent strategy” on China, that “simultaneously challenges, competes against, and cooperates” with Beijing as appropriate.

While he said the country poses a “systemic challenge for British interests”, he insisted it is in “everyone’s interest” that its relationship with the West “endure and evolve” as it is necessary to maintain ties to combat threats from climate change, pandemics and artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, he accused the Conservatives of undermining the UK’s soft power by “attacking institutions such as universities, courts, and the BBC”.

He said Labour would produce a “new Africa strategy” that “does more than merely offer aid”, as the continent “can and will generate vast growth”.

And he said he would tell every British ambassador abroad to “promote investment” in a bid to generate growth.