United Kingdom: the European Union welcomes Labor’s victory

After the overwhelming victory of the Labor Party, the leaders of the European Union were keen to congratulate the accession to power of Keir Starmer, appointed this Friday as Prime Minister by Charles III. The European Union hopes for a warming of relations between London and Brussels.
EU leaders welcomed the overwhelming Labor victory in the British elections on Friday, with the hope of a warming of relations between London and Brussels… but without expecting upheavals in the post-Brexit agreements. “A historic electoral victory”, greeted the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in his congratulations to the new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, saying he was delighted to work with London under a “Labour” government.

Labor leader vows to reduce trade tensions with EU

“The EU and the UK are essential partners, cooperating in all areas of mutual interest for our citizens,” said Charles Michel, who plans to meet Keir Starmer at the European Political Community summit scheduled for July 18. “We will discuss common challenges such as stability, security, energy and immigration,” he said. The Labor leader promised to reduce trade tensions with the European Union, the United Kingdom’s largest partner.

But he also promised that his government would never call Brexit into question and that it would not try to return to the single European market, ensuring that he simply wanted “Brexit to work” – his campaign slogan. The extent of possible progress to improve existing agreements, concluded after the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, will nevertheless be quite limited, diplomats in Brussels argue on condition of anonymity.

“With a different approach, based on cooperation and without hostility, things will be easier, but not necessarily simpler,” one of them explained. The post-Brexit agreements of 2020 and 2023 governing commercial relations between London and Brussels are “very complex” and “include balances that are difficult to change”, he argues. “Everything that was feasible (in terms of developments) has already been achieved, or has already been proposed,” adds another diplomat. Only marginal adjustments remain possible in several areas: rules for importing plants or animals, increased exchanges for youth, compliance with certain European standards by British manufacturers, mutual recognition of certain qualifications, etc.

“The atmosphere will change”

Better cooperation in defense and security is also seen on both sides of the Channel as a priority. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday that she looked forward to working with Keir Starmer to, among other things, “strengthen European security”. And Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, just appointed head of EU diplomacy, welcomed “the United Kingdom’s commitment to our common security”.

The war in Ukraine and the instability in the world, not to mention a possible return of Donald Trump to the White House, are all arguments for strengthening this cooperation. “It is in the interest of the EU, but also of Great Britain,” explained one of the diplomats interviewed by AFP. For Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on International Relations (ECFR), a Brussels-based think tank, international instability and the possible return of former US President Donald Trump make defense cooperation “more relevant” . The United Kingdom and 23 of the 27 EU countries are members of NATO, an organization heavily criticized and described as “obsolete” by Donald Trump.

The various British conservative governments have greatly politicized the relationship with Brussels to defend the “post-Brexit sovereignty” of the United Kingdom, but the future government of Keir Starmer should adopt a more “rational” attitude, Mark Leonard once again judged. However, he will have to take into account British concerns linked to immigration: “I think that the real red line would be a return to the freedom of movement of people, this is the only clear signal that emerged from the referendum on Brexit” in 2016, estimates Mark Leonard.

However, the British elections are not currently occupying minds in Brussels, warns Barry Colfer, research director of the Institute of International and European Affairs. “What is happening in France or is happening in the United States plays a more central role for the EU,” he observes. Overall, in Brussels, we are more “optimistic” about the attitude of the new government in London, which we anticipate to be more “pragmatic”, but without expecting any immediate upheaval, according to diplomats. “The atmosphere will change, but concrete results will take time,” judged one of them, while emphasizing the “availability” on the European side.

This article is originally published on europe1.fr

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