Written by 7:34 pm Europe Economy

Sir Keir Starmer argues for closer economic relationship with EU at World Economic Forum

Sir Keir Starmer set out his stall for a more outward looking and global post-Brexit Britain with a push for closer trade ties with Europe to attract international investment.

The Labour leader, who has held his cards close to his chest regarding his plan for a future deal with the EU, has repeatedly called for a closer economic relationship with the bloc.

Appearing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he and shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said repairing UK-EU trade ties would help attract global investment.

Sir Keir said “13 years of failure to grow the economy” had left the UK in a difficult position, but said “Brexit made that even harder”.

“That’s why we have been making the case for a closer economic relationship with the EU,” he added.

Sir Keir criticised Rishi Sunak’s absence and said his decision to attend was a “statement of intent” that he would increase the UK’s presence on the global stage as prime minister.

Britain's Labour leader Keir Starmer and the party's financial chief Rachel Reeves walk to a meeting during the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2023, in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland, January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said that under Labour, ‘the British economy will be open for business again’ (Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

And he called for a “clean power alliance” of countries at the forefront of climate ambition to accelerate action and bring down energy prices.

Labour plans to improve trading relations with the EU by negotiating specific sectoral agreements on science, technology, research, security, veterinary standards and universities.

Party insiders have not divulged where Labour would be prepared to make concessions in order to achieve these deals but they insisted Sir Keir was taking a “pragmatic” approach through building “allegiances and compromises”.

Speaking in Davos, Sir Keir said his plans for “clean power alliance” would see countries aiming for net zero emissions working together to share information, co-operate and share investment “with a view to driving the global prices down”.

Asked whether such a plan could form a template for less formal agreements with EU counties, a source close to Sir Keir said: “There will be lots of different ways of working, but what is clear is that the next Labour government will be collaborative, serious and future facing in the national interest.”

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Sir Keir has also said he would support the UK Government in pushing through changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol legislation to prevent Mr Sunak being backed into a corner by hardline Brexiteers in his party.

Sir Keir’s appearance at the Davos event, alongside Ms Reeves, was a deliberate attempt to signal his intent to forge international ties.

Neither Mr Sunak nor Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, attended, but the Government was represented by the Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, and the International Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch.

Mr Shapps defended Mr Sunak’s absence and said it was appropriate that he, as the Business Secretary, attend, because his role was to secure investment and jobs for the UK.

“[Mr Sunak] may well come another year, but right now in the midst of the energy crisis caused by Ukraine being invaded by Putin, with all of the trauma that we’ve gone through with Covid and much else, he is at home focusing — as a brand-new Prime Minister, by the way, two or three months into the job — on the domestic priorities,” he said.
“I’m here because I’m actually, technically, if you like, the right person to have in Davos.”

A Government aide told The Spectator: “There are much more pressing things than brushing shoulders with the world’s millionaires and billionaires.”

“One of the things that’s been impressed on me since I’ve been here is the absence of the United Kingdom,” Sir Keir said.

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“That’s why it’s really important that I’m here and that our shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is here as a statement of intent that should there be a change of government – and I hope there will be – the United Kingdom will play its part on the global stage in a way I think it probably hasn’t in recent years.”

Ms Reeves used her appearance at Davos to “send a message” that under Labour, “the British economy will be open for business again”.

“Part of that is sorting out some of the mess of the Brexit deal of a couple of years ago, which has seen our exports fall and jobs move abroad in many cases,” she said.

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