By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON – Britain’s opposition Labour Party will “reconnect” with the rest of Europe if it wins power, and aim to repair what it sees as the damage done by the governing Conservatives in the course of Brexit, its foreign policy chief said on Tuesday.
With Labour commanding a hefty lead in opinion polls over the Conservatives, the party is presenting itself as a government in waiting, gradually setting out the agenda it wants to pursue if it wins a national election expected next year.
Lammy said a Labour government would not want Britain to rejoin the European Union or its single market, but would try to restore trust with the bloc after years of damaging Brexit rows.
“Reconnecting Britain to Europe, while remaining outside of the EU, will be a top priority of the next Labour Foreign Office,” Lammy told an audience at the Chatham House think tank.
“With Labour, Britain will not rejoin the EU, the single market or the customs union. But within our red lines, there is real progress we can make to increase trade with our neighbours and deliver prosperity at home.”
Bank of England officials have said the effects of Brexit weighed on Britain’s economy, slowing trade in the country compared with the rest of the world.
Lammy was the latest senior Labour lawmaker to dash the hopes of pro-EU campaigners by ruling out a return to the bloc after Brexit, but he said he would work to boost trade and pursue a new UK-EU security pact.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said this month he would introduce a new “Take Back Control” bill, borrowing a phrase made famous by ex-prime minister Boris Johnson in his pursuit of Brexit, to try to make Britain’s independent status work better.
Lammy doubled down on that idea.
“My vision is of a ‘Britain reconnected’,” he said. “A confident country, outside of the EU but a leader in Europe once again. A reliable partner, a dependable ally and a good neighbour.”
Under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the rows with Brussels that marked relations under his two predecessors Johnson and Liz Truss have eased, but London and Brussels have yet to find a solution to post-Brexit trade problems in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol, covering post-Brexit trade rules with the British run province, has also tested relations with the United States, something Lammy said he would fix by working with Washington on maintaining support for Ukraine.
He also said Labour would launch a “complete audit” of Britain’s ties with China, commit to restoring spending on development aid, and create a new State Threats Cell with intelligence and security agencies to tackle “hostile actors”.
“The final priority of the new Labour foreign policy must be diplomacy,” he said. “Healing the rifts with the U.S. that the protocol fiasco has opened.”
In October, the Office for National Statistics concluded that Britain’s level of trade openness – the size of its trade flows relative to GDP – fell further than that of other G7 countries in recent years, noting that this coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as Brexit.
As of the third quarter of 2022, Britain was the only member of the Group of Seven advanced economies whose output had not returned to its level of late 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.