July 21, 2024

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New UK Foreign Secretary David Lammy wants to reset relations with EU

New UK Foreign Secretary David Lammy wants to reset relations with EU

Image source, EPA/IAEA/Shutterstock

Comment on the photo, David Lammy (right) held talks with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

  • author, Paul Adams
  • Role, BBC News
  • Report from Bydgoszcz, Northern Poland

David Lammy’s first whirlwind trip as foreign secretary, organised at such short notice, is not aimed at achieving immediate results or even at exploring brave new horizons.

It’s all about perception – the emergence of a strong new administration, determined to hit the ground running, full of goodwill towards some of the UK’s most important partners.

After an evening with his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock – where the two found time to watch a few minutes of the European Championship quarter-final between England and Poland – Mr Lamy’s tour moved on to the countryside surrounding the country house of Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

After a few hours of talks, the plane returned to its short flight north to one of NATO’s newest members, Sweden.

Why Germany, Poland and Sweden?

This is partly due to Ukraine. Along with Britain, all three countries play important roles in supporting Kiev’s war effort. With new Defence Secretary John Healey on the ground in Odessa, Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer’s government is keen to stress that the UK’s commitment to Ukraine remains rock solid.

“We want to strengthen our commitment to Ukraine,” Mr. Lamy said, as dragonflies soared over a tranquil lake and a pair of majestic eagles soared overhead.

Nor will I stop in Brussels. Sir Keir has said the UK will not return to the EU “in my lifetime”.

But Poland and Sweden are key European partners and NATO members, and are good places for the foreign minister to start exploring the broad outlines of closer future relations.

“I want to reset our bilateral relationship and our relationship with the European Union,” Lammy said, referring to Labour’s still somewhat vague pledge to strike a new EU-UK security deal.

He said that when European leaders gather at Blenheim Palace on July 18 for the next meeting of the European Political Group (set up by Emmanuel Macron in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), “the new spirit of cooperation will be evident.”

Comment on the photo, Lamy and his Polish counterpart embrace before the talks.

Lamy’s Concerns: Russia, China, and Gaza

The trip comes just days before Sir Keir takes his first steps on the international stage as Prime Minister, at the NATO summit in Washington DC.

These are difficult times to strengthen relations, with France drifting to the right and the United States potentially on the verge of returning the unpredictable Donald Trump to office.

Mr Lamy agreed that this was a “difficult geopolitical moment”, but said it was important not to confuse differences between mature democracies with the threats posed by authoritarian regimes.

“I get worried when I see Iranian drones appearing in Ukraine,” he said.

“I feel concerned when I see North Korean shells being used here on European soil.

Other issues remain on the new foreign minister’s mind during his first visit, especially the war in Gaza.

Comment on the photo, New British government affirms strong support for Ukraine

In Germany, Mr Lamy spoke on Saturday of the need to find a “more balanced approach to Israel and Gaza”.

But it remains unclear exactly what that means, but with ceasefire talks apparently set to resume, finding a way to end the Gaza war and revive the Arab-Israeli peace process seems bound to consume a great deal of diplomatic time in the coming months.

For his part, the host of the popular English-language Lammy show said that the relatively new Polish government has something in common with the incoming Starmer administration.

Both, Sikorski said, “were the result of public weariness with the enthusiasts on the nationalist side of politics” — an observation that perhaps only partly reflects the true nature of last week’s general election.

Sikorski said he looked forward to a “more pragmatic approach” from Britain towards its relationship with Europe, adding that the two ministers discussed “some creative ideas on how to strengthen that”.