Labour to seek regular UK access to EU foreign affairs council

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A future Labour government would seek to convince Brussels to allow the UK to attend meetings of the EU’s foreign affairs council, as part of a more structured dialogue between Britain and the bloc.

David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, would propose negotiating access to the regular forum as one option for deeper and more formalised co-operation with EU member states, according to Labour officials.

The attempt to build closer relations with Brussels would form part of Labour’s overhaul of UK foreign policy should the party win the general election expected later this year.

This could also include boosting funding for the BBC World Service, which provides news for international audiences in more than 40 languages, and for the British Council, the UK’s main cultural institution overseas, to bolster the UK’s standing overseas.

In an 11-page essay for Foreign Affairs magazine, published on Wednesday, Lammy accused the ruling Conservative party of having “compromised” the UK’s soft power, which he described as one of the nation’s “greatest strengths”.

The EU’s foreign affairs council is the forum in which the foreign ministers of the 27 member states meet on an almost monthly basis to discuss the most pressing international issues and co-ordinate the bloc’s diplomatic efforts.

It has previously invited foreign ministers of third countries, such as US secretary of state Antony Blinken, to participate in specific informal discussions. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba regularly briefs EU foreign ministers, but they only attend the sessions relevant to them.

Then-UK foreign secretary Liz Truss was one of a number of allies invited to attend an extraordinary meeting of the council in March 2022, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

No third country, including official EU candidate member states or those with formal bilateral relations with Brussels such as Norway, has an open invitation to send their minister on a regular basis.

As such, EU diplomats dismissed the idea of regular UK access to the meetings as impossible for Brussels to allow given that Britain was no longer a member of the EU.

“It is quite simple. To attend council meetings you have to be a member of the council,” said one EU diplomat. A second diplomat was even more dismissive, suggesting that as part of a deal to attend the meetings, the UK “could start making voluntary contributions to the EU budget and aligning all their legislation”.

In his essay, Lammy said the conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and the Sahel region of Africa meant the UK should “develop closer foreign and security co-operation with the EU”, arguing that there was no “formal means of co-operation” post-Brexit.

Tory insiders, however, rejected Labour’s analysis that there was insufficient dialogue with Brussels. One official said UK foreign secretary Lord David Cameron spoke regularly with EU counterparts, including the bloc’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.

Lammy said a new security pact with Brussels should complement Nato and drive “closer co-ordination across a wide variety of military, economic, climate, health, cyber, and energy security issues”.

The Labour frontbencher also reiterated his party’s long-standing policy that it would not seek to rejoin the EU, single market or customs union but argued there were “plenty of pragmatic steps we can take to rebuild trust and co-operation and reduce barriers to trade”.

He singled out four EU member states with which the UK should seek to “double down” on close relations: France, Germany, Ireland and Poland. London and Berlin should replicate the Anglo-French 2010 Lancaster House defence and security co-operation treaties, he said.

Lammy also argued that the UK could use its convening role in a “revitalised Commonwealth” to boost links with the “global south”, and said Britain needed a new Africa strategy.

Lammy outlined a foreign policy strategy of “progressive realism” with a renewed focus on ethics that stopped short of untempered idealism.

He cited former Labour foreign secretaries Ernest Bevin, an archetypal pragmatist who helped drive the creation of Nato in the 1940s, and Robin Cook, who emphasised the ethical dimension of foreign policy and pushed climate change and human rights up the agenda in the late 1990s, as key inspirations.


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