Brussels hails new UK govt but seen sticking to Brexit deal | World News - Hindustan Times
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Brussels hails new UK govt but seen sticking to Brexit deal

AFP |
Jul 05, 2024 04:24 PM IST

Brussels hails new UK govt but seen sticking to Brexit deal

The EU on Friday congratulated Keir Starmer on Labour's election win in Britain, with Brussels foreseeing warmer ties with London though little scope to change existing post-Brexit arrangements.

Brussels hails new UK govt but seen sticking to Brexit deal
Brussels hails new UK govt but seen sticking to Brexit deal

European Council President Charles Michel called Starmer's victory "historic", and stressed the EU and Britain "are crucial partners".

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen added she looked forward to working with Starmer "in a constructive partnership to address common challenges and strengthen European security."

Britain's new prime minister has vowed to reduce trade frictions with the European Union, forge closer security arrangements and relax travel restrictions for touring musicians.

But Starmer is also adamant his government will never reverse Brexit nor seek to be part of the European single market. His slogan is "Make Brexit Work".

While that necessarily reduces the scope for better dealings, a more cooperative London will be greatly welcomed in Brussels, according to one EU official and one EU diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity.

A "return to internationalist policies" from London would be "refreshing", the EU official said.

"If there is a different approach, one of cooperation and not with a hostile attitude, then things become easier but not simpler," the diplomat said.

They both warned all "easy" points of cooperation had already been hammered out and enshrined in a painstakingly negotiated 2020 EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and a 2023 Windsor Framework.

But even if the overall deal would not be changed, some aspects could have hard edges filed down, they and analysts said.

Those could include: easing some rules around plant and animal imports; Britain continually aligning with EU rules on chemicals and standards; opening up youth exchange programmes; and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

One key area where both sides see a priority is close cooperation is defence.

Increased geopolitical instability, notably with Russia's war in Ukraine, and the prospect of a new Donald Trump US presidency with fears America could retreat from its global security role are fuelling that.

"It is in the interest of the EU and also the UK," the EU diplomat said. "It would be interesting if the British come back on that issue with proposals."

Michel said he would see Starmer on July 18 when Britain hosts a European Political Community summit "where we will discuss common challenges, including stability, security, energy and migration".

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tapped to become the EU's next foreign policy chief noted "the UK's commitment to our common security" in her own congratulatory message to Starmer.

Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, told AFP the surge in international volatility and the "big danger" of what a president Trump might do made shared defence "more relevant".

Britain and 23 of the EU's 27 member countries are in NATO, the usual forum for defence cooperation. But Trump during his 2017-2021 presidency called into question America's commitment to the alliance.

While Britain under the Conservatives ended up taking a very arm's-length stance with Brussels on ideological grounds of post-Brexit "sovereignty", Starmer's government is expected to shift to a "rational policy discussion" about UK interests, Leonard said.

The Tories, he said, grappled with a decades-long "psychodrama around Europe... which has destroyed the party".

But Labour still has to bow to Britons' general animosity to immigration, he cautioned.

"I think the only really, really strong red line is about returning to freedom of movement, because that's the only clear signal which came out of the Brexit referendum," he said.

Barry Colfer, director of research at the Institute of International and European Affairs, also said the result of the UK elections was not so prominent in Brussels' thinking right now.

"What's happening in France or even what's happening in the US I think plays a much more central role in the EU," he said.

That said, European elites were "optimistic" about what Starmer's stance would be, he added, anticipating a "generally more pragmatic, evidence-driven, constructive approach" with more diplomatic outreach than under his Tory predecessors.

"I can just see more enhanced cooperation in really obvious areas where it's a win-win situation between the UK and the EU to cooperate: around climate change, and security, around scientific research, around digitalisation," Colfer said.

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This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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