The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

23 Jun 2022

Relationship with the EU

Role in the World

Thank you, Anand, for inviting me here today.

You and your colleagues at The UK in a Changing Europe have been an invaluable resource as we have navigated these last few years.

It’s great to be with you at what is a vital moment for Britain’s relationship with the EU and a critical time for European security.

We are now six years on from the referendum.

The world has changed considerably since the day of that vote.

There has been some progress…

…let’s not forget that was the week in June 2016 when England lost to Iceland in the Euros.

But to say the years since have been very challenging globally is an understatement.

Back in the summer of 2016, the Trump presidency was a danger on the horizon…

…Not a surreal nightmare we lived through, and which continues to put American democracy under threat.

The Taliban were on the fringes of Afghanistan, not in power in Kabul.

Very few of us had heard of coronaviruses…

…until a novel variant took millions of lives…

…froze economies across the world…

…and forced so many of us to miss out on the close relationships we depend on.

And now Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has marked the return of large-scale land war to our continent.

The last six years have upended many assumptions, exposing us to new threats and shaking the foundations of the international order.

We face this from a new settled position outside of the EU, but without a clear direction set for our foreign policy.

The series of crises we have lived through has made the world less stable…

…but the Conservatives cannot hide from the fact that their choices have left us more damaged than almost any other comparable economy.

There is consensus among economists that the government’s poorly negotiated deal with the EU has contributed to the UK lagging behind the rest of the G7 in trade recovery.

Except for Putin’s Russia which is facing unprecedented sanctions…

…the OECD predicts that next year the UK will have the lowest growth in the G20.

The Office for Budget Responsibility still predicts the government’s badly negotiated deal will reduce the UK’s gross domestic product by 4 per cent.

That’s £100bn a year in lost output.

The Conservatives have turned us into a country of high tax and low growth.

The Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy was trumpeted by Boris Johnson as a British ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’ and scarcely mentions Europe beyond NATO.

Just months after Boris Johnson claimed ‘the old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European land mass are over’…

…he was proven tragically wrong.

And the government’s mistakes in foreign policy go beyond Europe.

It made short-sighted cuts to aid when global humanitarian need has never been greater…

…abandoning a cross party consensus and a manifesto commitment…

…undermining our ability to tackle climate change, conflict and future pandemics..

Billions of pounds of the defence budget have been lost in mismanagement and waste…

…while the British army faces further cuts.

Instead of investing sufficient resources in renewable energy at home to reach Net Zero…

…Boris Johnson has moved from dictator to dictator, with his cap in hand, to beg for fossil fuels.

Too often the Conservatives have turned a blind eye to security concerns and human rights in our relationship with China.

And Boris Johnson’s government has done everything in their powers to damage the UK’s historic reputation for upholding international law.

From its reckless plans on the Northern Ireland Protocol to its unethical, unlawful and unworkable plan to send refugees to Rwanda…

…the Conservatives have made the UK less trusted and more isolated on the world stage.

Ukraine turning point

The war in Ukraine is a turning point for European security.

We have stood united in Parliament in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and defence, and our opposition to Russia’s bloody war…

But Putin’s imperialism has exposed just how dangerous it was for the Conservatives to spend decades cosying up to Russian oligarchs…

…allowing their dirty money to pollute the UK economy, our politics and institutions.

It also should remind the government what was always obvious…

…even though we are outside the EU, our geography matters.

What happens on the European continent is fundamental to our security and our prosperity.

We share mutual interests and democratic values with our European partners.

Building and sustaining relations of influence and trust with them is in Britain’s national interest.

Even though we are outside the EU, the British public recognises we need to be working closely with our closest partners.

But instead of recognising this reality, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are stuck in a fever dream of 2016.

Picking petty fights with our closest neighbours…

…instead of moving on and negotiating solutions.

The government’s position is that the situation in Ukraine is so serious that their lawbreaking Prime Minister must remain in office…

…but apparently not serious enough to stop us starting a diplomatic fight with some of our closest allies.

With inflation soaring, with the country facing a cost of living crisis, with war on the European continent, this is the worst possible time for this Bill to arrive.

Protocol problems

Let us be clear, the dispute over the Protocol is about the terms of the deal the government negotiated, signed, and campaigned on.

And the Government are now trying to convince people that their flagship policy was not a negotiating triumph, but a deal so flawed that they cannot even implement it.

It was Johnson’s deal that introduced barriers in the Irish Sea after he promised it would not.

There is no getting around this. It was clear from the outset.  It was by design, a choice this government made. They must take responsibility.

The situation in Northern Ireland is serious. Stormont is not functioning. Unionists feel their place in the UK is threatened.

But taking a wrecking ball to the agreement will not resolve it.

The Protocol Bill introduced to this House last week breaks international law…

…it risks the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement…

…one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government that brought a new era of relative peace and stability to Northern Ireland.

It divides the UK with the EU when we should be pulling together against Putin’s war on our continent…

…and it risks causing new trade barriers in a cost of living crisis.

It’s not even enough to get the DUP to commit to return to Stormont.

The only people this Bill satisfies are the ERG.

The government’s approach is not diplomacy. It is the absence of diplomacy. The failure of negotiations.

An ugly attempt by the Foreign Secretary to posture in front of backbenchers…

…nearly 75% of whom have lost confidence in Boris Johnson.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will only make finding a resolution harder.

One of the most troubling aspects of all of this is the dangerous legal distortion that is used to justify it.

The Doctrine of Necessity is not an excuse for states to abandon their obligations.

It exists to do the opposite: to constrain the circumstances when states can legitimately claim their hand has been forced.

It requires this action to be the “only way” possible to resolve the issue…

…but the government has not used Article 16 and still says a negotiated solution is possible.

It requires a grave and imminent peril…

…but the government has chosen a route that will take months of Parliamentary wrangling.

It requires the invoking state not to have contributed to the situation of necessity.

I will leave the rest of you to judge if the government may have possibly played some role.

A Doctrine of Necessity exemplified 55 years ago….

…In the crucial, emergency action taken by Harold Wilson…

…To tackle the oil spill from the Torrey Canyon…

…Is now being used by Boris Johnson…

…Deliberately and needlessly…

…To pour petrol on the flames of this row.

The solemn promise of international law depends on countries acting in good faith and upholding their commitments to treaties they have agreed.

How would we react if a country we negotiated with did the same thing and just disregarded the commitments we had mutually agreed upon?

I do not doubt that Liz Truss would dismiss necessity as an excuse if an authoritarian state used it to justify its actions in breaking a treaty in the way the UK has done.

Since she became Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Office has issued countless statements or press releases urging others to meet their obligations…

…Iran under the JCPOA…

…and China under the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong.

In just the last fortnight, the Foreign Office has – rightly – publicly called on Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Russia, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia to meet their international obligations.

To dress up her own treaty violation with this flimsy and transparent legal distortion damages Britain’s moral authority and political credibility.

Undermining international law like this runs counter to Britain’s interests.

It risks emboldening dictators and authoritarian states around the world.

This Protocol Bill is a charter for lawlessness, that serves the interests of those who want to weaken the rule of law.

Protocol solutions 

The government must take responsibility for the failures of the Brexit deal they negotiated.

But solutions are still achievable.

A sensible and serious Westminster government would work with all parties to solve these problems.

Because there is no unilateral solution…

…Only a deal that works for the UK, the EU – and most importantly the people, communities and businesses of Northern Ireland – will last.

In government, Labour would seek practical solutions to reduce any checks to their absolute minimum, negotiating in good faith.

We should pursuing an agreement on food and agricultural standards that could drastically ease checks between GB and NI.

We want to see a data agreement to improve how we share trade data in real time.

We should be negotiating for a risk based approach for goods entering NI from GB.

One option to pursue is a proposal that goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should be treated according to their final destination.

In negotiations based on good faith, it could be achievable for the UK and the EU to agree a “Northern Ireland approved” goods designation…

…which could exempt products moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from regulatory checks and customs requirements…

…as long as these goods meet specific mutually agreed conditions.

This would not mean all goods escape checks.

All other goods from Great Britain that are traded with Ireland and the rest of the single market would still face checks..

But it would greatly reduce the volume, number and frequency.

Both the EU and the UK would have to compromise to make this happen.

But the last Labour government was able to broker the Good Friday Agreement…

…we are confident that with trust and goodwill, we would be able to achieve it.

Of course that will take flexibility. I am not one of these people that believes only the UK government needs to show flexibility.

The EU must be less rigid.

But I’ve been told frankly by EU partners that if there was a partner they could trust they could show more flexibility.

Instead they have Boris Johnson who lies, breaks the law, and never keeps his promises.

With a change of Prime Minister and a change of government…

…the UK could build a stable and mutually beneficial relationship with the EU over the long term.

We could operate in a new cooperative spirit, recognising our common interests, the new relationship we have and adapting for the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Improving economic cooperation with the EU

We cannot keep being held back by this government’s desire to pick fights with the EU for domestic reasons.

The question the country faces is no longer leave or remain.

We have already left.

The questions people are asking are:

How do I pay the bills?

How do I put food on the table?

How will afford my heating this winter?

How do I get an appointment with a GP?

What jobs and opportunities are there for my children?

And how do we keep our country safe?

Only Labour wants to leave behind the binaries of the past.

And to make our relationship with the EU work.

To do it, we must look honestly at what’s going wrong with the government’s deal.

It’s not just problems over the Protocol, difficult and important though those are.

It’s becoming clearer as we emerge from the pandemic that the rest of Boris Johnson’s deal is creating problems…

…for exporters looking to access the EU market…

…for companies seeking to hire talent…

…for industries and their supply chains.

Investment is draining.

Business are facing barriers.

So a Labour government would seek to improve the deal.

Not by re-opening it, or re-negotiating it.

Keir Starmer has been clear.

The questions that divided us for half a decade have been settled.

We will not re-join the Single Market or the Customs Union.

Which is why we need to be creative.

In building on the government’s existing deal that we will inherit.

As Keir told the CBI conference last November, Labour will work with business on a transparent and honest analysis…

…that exposes all the holes in the Prime Minister’s deal.

And finds practical improvements that help businesses, help our economy, provide greater investment and opportunities.

A Labour government would seek an agri-food agreement to improve the flow of food, and help our exporters.

We would seek regulatory equivalence for financial services…

… and strengthen mutual recognition of professional qualifications…

… because we need to give our world-leading financial and professional service businesses the ability to grow further.

We would also aim to maintain Britain’s data adequacy status.

So that our data protection rules would continue to be deemed equivalent to those in the EU.

This would make UK digital services companies more competitive. And more successful.

We would negotiate an improved long-term deal for UK hauliers to ease the supply chain problems that are holding us back.

We would secure association to the Horizon funding programme, so we restore our leading role in scientific collaboration.

And restore visa-free touring for musicians…

…so our cultural impact on the world can continue to be oversized.

These steps are common sense.

In the national interest.

That make it easier for us to do business with the world’s largest single trading bloc on our shores.

Deepening security cooperation with the EU

And it’s not only our economic relationship that must be improved…

…the next Labour government will prioritize working more closely with – not within – the EU on foreign, security and defence.

We’re proud in Labour that Britain is NATO’s leading European nation.

Britain’s never been signed up to the French-led concept of ‘strategic autonomy’ or backed a European Army.

NATO is Europe’s defence alliance.

Euro-Atlantic security will remain anchored in NATO, and our commitment to the alliance is unshakeable.

But we can complement those NATO bonds…

…with a new UK-EU security pact.

So we can stand firm in defence of democracy…

…to deter Putin’s imperialist urges.

We need to tackle new threats in cyber and information warfare, and cooperate on new frontiers like AI and autonomous technologies, just as the AUKUS pact intends to.

We can work together more closely on sanctions to maximize their effects…

…bear down on the dirty money that sustains kleptocrats and the tax evasion that denies funds to our public services…

Tackle cross border threats like organised crime and human trafficking.

Ensure deep and effective police, crime and terror cooperation to keep people safe.

And negotiate a replacement for the Dublin agreement.

We must also work together to tackle the drivers of the global refugee crisis.

And in the fight against global heating…

…we can cooperate to accelerate climate action…

…improve energy security…

…and end dependency on dirty fossil fuels.There are different models for how a security relationship could work.

What matters most is how we can improve the security of the British public.


It is now more important than ever to have a good and constructive relationship with our European partners.

In a cost of living crisis and while war continues to rage on our continent…

…the last thing the British public needs is a government issuing a Charter of Lawlessness to pick fights with our closest allies.

It is in the national interest to build on the government’s poorly negotiated deal to leave the EU…

…so that we can do more business with Europe while outside the Single Market…

…solve the problems created by Boris Johnson’s protocol…

…and make our whole continent safer with a UK-EU security pact.

This is not just about foreign policy as traditionally conceived.

It is also about how politics outside of our islands affects us domestically.

To be secure and prosperous, we must tackle global corruption and illicit finance.

Work to build a fairer global trading system.

And stand united in defence democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Values the UK and the EU both share.

A Labour government will end the era of acrimony with the EU…

…and start a new constructive relationship with our neighbours based on security, prosperity and respect.

So that Britain can once again be a reliable force for good in the world.

Check against delivery


Kicking the can down the road? The continued precarity of EU pre-settled status

Labour’s Brexit policy faces a hard collision with reality

Starmer meets Macron: making friends for the future

Will the 2026 TCA review reshape UK-EU relations?

Citizens’ rights and computer glitches: is digital immigration status fit for purpose?

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