Irish prime minister: EU open to Keir Starmer’s Brexit plan

The Labour government is seeking a ‘reset’ of the U.K.’s relationship with Europe.

Jul 8, 2024 - 01:28
Irish prime minister: EU open to Keir Starmer’s Brexit plan

LONDON — The European Union is “absolutely” open to Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s plan for an overhaul of the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit trading relationship, Ireland’s premier has said.

Simon Harris said the EU would give a “fair hearing” to “any proposal that the British government has.”

Labour, which won a historic majority in Thursday’s U.K. general election, has said it wants to negotiate a veterinary agreement with the bloc in a bid to smooth trade and reduce border friction for businesses, among other changes to the Brexit settlement.

The Taoiseach said Ireland “will always be an ally of Britain having a closer relationship with the European Union.”

“I do absolutely think there would be a fair hearing for any proposal that the British government or indeed the EU has about ironing out practical issues in terms of having a relationship that works,” Harris told Sky News.

“Is there space to have a veterinary agreement, is there space in terms of student mobility, is there space to work closer together on issues? I think there absolutely is.

“And I do think there would be a willingness in Europe to have those conversations in due course, should that be the wish of the British government.”

Strings attached

EU officials have previously told POLITICO a veterinary agreement — also known as a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement — would require the U.K. to align with EU rules on food and agriculture and to accept a role for the European Court of Justice.

EU ambassador Pedro Serrano said earlier this year that such a deal would come with certain “modalities” that the U.K. would have to accept.

Other reports have suggested the EU might want to see progress on its priorities, such as a youth mobility agreement and better access for EU fishermen, in exchange for signing such an agreement.

Also speaking on Sunday, Labour’s new Business and Trade Secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky that he welcomed the Taoiseach’s “constructive attitude.”

“If we can sell more whisky, more salmon to a market which is so significant to us, of course we should explore an opportunity like that,” Reynolds said of his party’s proposals for an SPS agreement.

“I think moving forward to, to be frank, a relationship to Europe that is not determined by the internal politics of the Conservative Party is very much in the national interest in the U.K.,” Reynolds said.

But he added that changes to the U.K.’s broader “constitutional arguments,” including a return of freedom of movement, would not be considered.

‘Reset’ spooks Euroskeptics

British Foreign Secretary David Lammy traveled to Berlin on Saturday, barely 24 hours after his boss Keir Starmer was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister on Saturday.

“It’s time to reset our relationship with our European friends and allies,” Lammy said.

That language was echoed on Friday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who told Starmer that she looked forward to meeting to discuss ways to “strengthen cooperation and reset the relationship” between the U.K. and EU, according to an EU read-out of a call between the two leaders.

Starmer himself told German chancellor Olaf Scholz he wanted “greater economic cooperation,” while a separate call with French President Emmanuel Macron covered “shared priorities, including migration and the economy.”

The quick move to rapprochement with Europe has spooked some Tory Euroskeptics. David Frost, the Conservative peer who negotiated Boris Johnson’s Brexit settlement, told the Mail on Sunday that “whatever Labour may have said before the election, we can expect them now to take every opportunity to start chipping away at our national independence.”

Those fears were exacerbated on Saturday, after the Germany foreign ministry posted on X: “We are working with the new U.K. government to see how the U.K. can move closer to the EU.”

During the U.K.’s six week general election, Conservative candidates including former Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch repeatedly attacked Labour’s ambitions for Europe, accusing the party of failing to explain what trade-offs it would be willing to make to secure its aims.

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