UK to seek joint declaration with EU on security pact

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Lammy has also accepted an invitation from the EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, to attend the October meeting of the EU foreign affairs council – something that was rejected by the previous Conservative government…reports Asian Lite News

Labour is seeking a sweeping joint declaration with the EU to usher in a wide-ranging security pact covering defence, energy, the climate crisis, pandemics and even illegal migration, the foreign secretary, David Lammy, has said.

As part of the new government’s plan to reset its relations with the EU and bring “an end to the Brexit era”, Lammy told the Guardian that a broadly defined security deal would not undermine Labour’s commitment to remain outside the EU’s single market and customs union.

Under Labour plans, the pact would see the UK work more closely with the bloc on a slew of areas related to security, ideally without the need for a legally binding deal, which could take years to agree.

Lammy has also accepted an invitation from the EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, to attend the October meeting of the EU foreign affairs council – something that was rejected by the previous Conservative government.

It is rare for non-EU states to attend the foreign affairs council, and Labour thinks it may be possible to go on an irregular basis if the planned security pact develops.

In an interview during his first trip to Europe as foreign secretary, Lammy said: “We said in our manifesto we wanted an ambitious security pact, and that’s because we have been speaking to Europe about this for the last few years, and I think there is an appetite, particularly following the war in Ukraine and the challenges that EU faces in relation to energy and climate, to go broader than just defence.

“So you have to obviously get into discussions with Europe and find those issues of mutual interest. My hope is that once, of course, the new European leadership is in place, we can progress this with a joint declaration of some kind. Obviously, underneath that would be buckets of work streams.”

Labour is said to be leaning against a legally binding joint document that, as well as taking years to negotiate, could also start to conflict with separate work on reviewing the UK-EU Trade Cooperation Agreement, a negotiation that may last until 2026 and is unlikely to begin until a new EU Commission has been appointed.

Labour thinking in relation to a security pact is to see if it can establish something similar to the EU-US technology council that has a number of subcommittees, and holds an annual summit. The UK is one of the few external partners with which the EU holds no annual summit.

Asked whether the security cooperation could extend to issues such as cybersecurity, illegal migration, pandemics, decarbonisation and access to critical minerals, Lammy said: “Yes, it could.”

He added: “Particularly on critical minerals, we do need to cooperate with our European partners. And post-pandemic, we are very aware of our capability in health, in pharmaceuticals and in higher education. So there, I think we are talking about things that Europe wants to talk to us about.

“I’ve said that I’m very keen for us to get to a place where we’ve got structured dialogue with the EU, so I hope we can arrive at that.”

After Labour won a landslide victory in Thursday’s election, Lammy embarked on a trip to meet his counterparts in Poland, Germany and Sweden.

He said: “I’m serious about a reset. I sensed in Poland and Germany they were delighted to have a new [UK] government. We are absolutely clear that we want to look to the future. I think there’s a lot of issues that we have to coordinate on, but it is all a matter of negotiation and discussion. But I’ve set the direction of travel.”

The broad issue was raised by Lammy with the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who said they had discussed “some creative ideas” on future cooperation.

Poland holds the presidency of the EU next year, and is likely to be a key ally in persuading other EU states that the UK is not seeking a back-door way into accessing the single market without taking on its responsibilities.

Within the EU, the need for greater defence cooperation alongside Nato has normally been championed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK is aware that Anglo-French bilateral defence cooperation is in a period of flux, as Macron fights for his political survival.

Lammy was reluctant to commit on whether he would revive plans for a EU-wide youth mobility scheme. Both the previous government and Labour had rejected EU plans to make it easier for 18- to 30-years-olds in the bloc and the UK to study and work abroad. Under the scheme, UK participants would be able to stay only in the first EU country that accepted them.

But he said the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, had raised with him the issue of school visits.

“There’s lots of concern in Germany, for example, about the fall-off in our young people meeting one another. If this goes on, you can have a generation of people that really have no contact. She herself was a student of LSE. I hope we can fix that school visits issue, but issues about mobility are broader issues that do raise more complex issues.”

He insisted that Labour remained clear that it was not going to return to a system of free movement of labour. He said there were problems with the European Commission proposals, but added: “In the spirit of openness, I am very happy to hear what they have to say.”

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