Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Starmer to begin reset of EU relations in meetings with Irish and French PMs

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Keir Starmer is to kickstart the resetting of the UK’s relationship with the EU with bilateral meetings next week with the prime ministers of Ireland of France, two of the country’s most important neighbours.

He will meet the taoiseach, Simon Harris, at Chequers on Wednesday on the eve of the fourth meeting of the European Political Community (EPC), a conference of more then 45 EU and non-EU prime ministers, which takes this place this year at Blenheim Palace near Oxford.

He is then expected to have dinner with Emmanuel Macron on Thursday evening after the EPC summit.

Rishi Sunak had announced recently that the EPC gathering would bring together “around 50 leaders from across the region to discuss shared challenges such as Ukraine and illegal migration” .

It is understood the agenda set by the former prime minister remains the same, but that the Labour government has decided to downgrade migration as a primary topic for the talks.

Ukraine is top of the agenda, and other topic include “democracy”, under which which the leaders will be able to discuss everything from the rise of the far right to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns.

The EPC was Macron’s brainchild. It is an informal platform with no concluding political declaration, giving EU and non-EU member states including Norway, Turkey, Georgia, Iceland, Switzerland and the UK a forum to engage and strengthen relations.

One EU diplomat said it was also important that the host country did not try to impose its own agenda, which would imperil the whole concept of the EPC. “The surest way to get people’s backs up is to kind of use the same kind of brash, self-centred approach as the Conservatives,” they said.

The meeting at Winston Churchill’s birthplace is Starmer’s first opportunity to tell EU leaders personally about his commitment and determination to strengthen relations with the bloc after eight years marred by the toxicity that Brexit brought.

Insiders in Brussels have said the scars left by the Conservative government run deep and that it will be some time before trust with the UK can be re-established.

The foreign secretary, David Lammy, said said last week that Britain had to reconnect with the rest of the world with major resets in relations with Europe and the global south.

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The relationship with Ireland is key to the UK because of the shared responsibility for the Good Friday agreement and the significant trade between the two countries.

There have been tensions in the past two years over the Conservativegovernment’s decision to go ahead with the Legacy Act. The legislation, which offers limited immunity to security force veterans and former paramilitaries who cooperate with a new commission for reconciliation and information recovery, was opposed by Dublin and every political party in Northern Ireland, including the Democratic Unionists.

Harris said on Wednesday night that Irish ministers had been instructed to increase contact with their British counterparts.

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