Keir Starmer meets Emmanuel Macron and builds European ties | ET REALITY


President Emmanuel Macron of France held talks with British opposition leader Keir Starmer on Tuesday, in a sign of the international status accorded to the man who hopes to become the first center-left British politician to win a general election in almost two decades.

Two days after attending a meeting of center-left leaders in Montreal, where he shook hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Starmer’s private visit to the Elysee Palace in Paris was a personal victory, and one that underscored his cautious ambition. . to improve relations with the European Union after years of hostility over Brexit.

“It was my first opportunity to say how much I value the relationship between our two countries, particularly when it comes to prosperity and security,” Starmer said in a video statement after the meeting in France. “And how, if we have the privilege of being elected to power, we intend to build on that relationship and make it even stronger than it is today.”

However, the diplomatic initiative was a calculated risk for Starmer, the leader of the Labor Party, who faced accusations of “Brexit betrayal” in the right-wing British tabloids after he said he would seek to improve the country’s trade deal with the Union. European in 2025 if he wins power.

Until recently, Starmer had been very cautious about further engagement with Brussels for fear of giving Britain’s ruling Conservative Party the opportunity to argue that it wants to overturn the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Although recent surveys have suggested that the majority of people in the country now have a negative view of BrexitPartly due to a cost of living crisis fueled by higher inflation rates than in the bloc, the issue has largely faded from public political discourse.

On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office downplayed the importance of Starmer’s meeting with Macron in Paris, saying it was not unusual for opposition leaders to meet foreign leaders.

While there is some truth to that point, leaders of large nations rarely take the time to look at opposition politicians with little prospect of power. Starmer, a former chief prosecutor, leads a party that has maintained a large and consistent lead in opinion polls for most of the past year, and Sunak must call the next election for January 2025.

Macron kept Tuesday’s meeting behind closed doors to limit any embarrassment for Sunak, but the optics were good for the Labor leader.

“From Starmer’s point of view, he looks like a statesman and is starting to become known – that’s all positive,” said Catherine Barnard, a professor at the University of Cambridge and an expert on Britain’s relations with the European Union.

Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a research institute, said Starmer knew that after years of tension over Brexit, the credibility of an incoming Labor government with the European Union could be quite low.

“So Starmer is looking to European leaders like Macron to try to prepare them, letting them know in advance some of his plans for a Labor government, and to assure them that it will be very different, that it will not be Rishi. Sunak Mark II,” he said.

Mr. Starmer told the Financial Times On Sunday he said that if Labor won the next election, it would seek to improve Britain’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the bloc, a pact scheduled to be reviewed in 2025.

He has repeatedly ruled out rejoining the European Union, or the bloc’s customs union, which establishes common tariffs among member countries, or its huge single market, a trade zone where goods, capital, services and people they flow freely. And he has made clear that he would not accept free movement of European workers to Britain, a key requirement for membership of the single market.

But Professor Barnard said Starmer’s goals of re-engaging with the European Union – which include striking a deal to help British food exporters – could deliver only modest help to the British economy.

“All I hear is that the EU is fed up with British exceptionalism,” he said. “They got everything they wanted from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

Grant said Labor needed to “start blurring the edges of its red lines, particularly in the single market”, and should try to offer the European Union more cooperation on issues such as energy, fisheries policy, defense and security, and rebuild Ukraine.

Last week, the Labor leader visited Europol, the European Union’s police agency, in The Hague to discuss plans to thwart people-smuggling gangs who send asylum seekers in small boats to Britain. Mr Starmer said he would do it. Treating human traffickers as “terrorists” and would seek an EU-wide return agreement under which some arrivals would be returned to continental Europe. But Conservative politicians took the opportunity to warn that an incoming Labor government would have to accept a quota of asylum seekers in return.

That was a reminder that, despite the shift in opinion polls, any political missteps by Labor could make it harder to win over crucial Brexit supporters in the north and the Midlands, who delivered a victory overwhelming the conservatives in 2019.

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