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'Progressive realism': UK Labour lays out foreign policy pitch

By AFP

May 17, 2024 11:03 PM


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Closer relations with Europe, continued support for Ukraine, and a desire for Palestinian statehood: Britain's likely next government is outlining its foreign policy plans -- and much is similar to the current administration's.

If opinion polls are correct, the UK's main opposition Labour Party will defeat the ruling Conservatives at a general election due later this year and return to government for the first time since 2010.

Labour's foreign policy priority will be forging a closer relationship with European neighbours, rebuilding bridges since the country's acrimonious exit from the EU.

At the heart of that approach will be a new EU "security pact" that Labour wants to negotiate with the 27-member bloc.

The accord would drive "closer coordination across a wide variety of military, economic, climate, health, cyber, and energy security issues," Labour's international affairs spokesman David Lammy wrote recently in Foreign Affairs magazine.

It would also complement both parties' "unshakeable commitment to NATO", added Lammy, who wants Britain to "double down on its close relationships with France, Germany, Ireland, and Poland".

"The next election is an opportunity to turn the page on the post-Brexit rancour of the past," Lammy, 51, told reporters in London on Friday.

"I want to get back to structured dialogue with the European Union on the issues that matter."

Labour has enjoyed double-digit leads over the Conservatives for about 18 months, so Lammy has been laying out his vision for UK diplomacy.

He calls it "progressive realism" that combines the fact-based approach of arguably Labour's most famous foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, with the idealism of Robin Cook, who served as Britain's top diplomat in the late 1990s.

Bevin helped establish NATO and pushed for Britain to acquire nuclear weapons, while Cook oversaw successful interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone before resigning from Tony Blair's cabinet over the invasion of Iraq.

"Our diplomacy needs to rediscover the art of grand strategy," Lammy said Friday.

Analysts say much of Labour's current positioning on foreign affairs is about providing reassurance after it was perceived as weak on security and defence under left-winger Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Its stance on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has echoed Sunak's, as has its commitment to backing Ukraine in its fight to repel Russia's invasion.

Labour is expected to continue with the Conservatives' more robust approach to China and shares the same aim to return aid spending to 0.7 percent of Gross National Income only when economic conditions allow.

 Multilateral institutions 

 "The policies that they've set out are very, very similar to the government's," Bronwen Maddox, director of the Chatham House international affairs think-tank told AFP.

She expects to see a change in tone, a different migration policy since Labour has pledged not to follow Sunak's plan to deport irregular migrants to Rwanda, and a move to get closer to Europe.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, has said Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" -- the European Union anthem -- best sums up his party.

But he has ruled out returning to the European single market, customs union or free movement if Labour wins power, with Brexit still a toxic political issue in the UK.

Labour does plan, however, to pursue a British-German defence accord similar to the Lancaster House agreement that the UK signed with France in 2010.

Lammy suggested that a youth mobility scheme proposed by the European Commission recently making it easier for Britons aged 18-30 to live, study and work in the EU could be included in a future relationship.

Brexit saw the UK withdraw from the EU's Erasmus student exchange programme, then propose its own global version, the Turing Scheme.

"That's part of the discussions that we'll enter into," said Lammy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who voted to leave the EU, has yet to announce the date of the election but it must be held by January 28, 2025.

If Labour wins, analysts expect to see Britain engage more with global bodies.

Sunak became the first UK leader in a decade to skip the UN General Assembly last year while Tories regularly call for Britain to quit the European Convention on Human Rights.

"There will be greater focus on the reform of international institutions," and "a renewed push for the UK to promote its international leadership on climate policy", Sophia Gaston of the right-wing Policy Exchange think-tank told AFP.


AFP


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