July 13, 2024

New foreign secretary wants to reset UK-EU ties

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David Lammy’s whirlwind first trip as foreign secretary, organized at very short notice, is not about instant results or even brave new horizons.

It is all about perception — the appearance of a new, vigorous administration, determined to hit the ground running, brimming with goodwill towards some of the UK’s most important partners.

After an evening spent with his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock — the two found time to watch a few minutes of England’s European Championship quarter-final — Lammy’s tour moved to the bucolic surroundings of the country estate of Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky.

After a couple of hours of talks, it was back on the plane for a short flight north to one of Nato’s newest members, Sweden.

Why Germany, Poland and Sweden?

Partly because of Ukraine. Along with Britain, all three countries play important roles in sustaining Kyiv’s war effort. With the new Defence Secretary John Healey on the ground in Odesa, Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer’s government is keen to stress that the UK’s commitment to Ukraine will remain rock solid.

Following a meeting with President Zelensky and his counterpart Defence Minister Rustem Umerov, Healey said the UK would provide more artillery guns, a quarter-of-a-million ammunition rounds and nearly 100 precision Brimstone missiles.

“There may have been a change in government, but the UK is united for Ukraine,” he said, promising to “reinvigorate” support via increased military aid.

He also pledged to fast-track the reinforcements to ensure they arrive with the next 100 days.

“We want to double down on our commitment to Ukraine,” Lammy said, as dragonflies swooped over a tranquil lake and a pair of majestic eagles circled overhead.

France, in the midst of its own election — one which seems destined to have far-reaching consequences — was not on the itinerary. Not this weekend.

No stop in Brussels, either. Sir Keir has said the UK will not return to the EU “in my lifetime”.

But Poland and Sweden are both key European partners and fellow Nato members — good places for the foreign secretary to start exploring the outlines of closer future relations.

“I want to reset both our bilateral relationship and our relationship with the European Union,” Lammy said, adding a reference to Labour’s still rather nebulous pledge to strike a new EU-UK security pact.

Meanwhile, on a visit to Edinburgh on Sunday, the prime minister said work was already under way to improve the UK’s relationship with the EU.

He said his government “can get a much better deal than the botched deal that Boris Johnson saddled the UK with”.

Lammy said that when European leaders gather at Blenheim Palace on 18 July for the next meeting of the European Political Community (established by Emmanuel Macron in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), “the new spirit of co-operation will be on show”.

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