New UK foreign secretary sets intentions

Resetting the UK's relationship with EU nations and sealing a long-awaited free trade deal with India are priorities for David Lammy, who became Britain's foreign secretary following the Labour Party's victory in last week's general election.

Berlin, Germany. Foreign Secretary David Lammy meets with Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Annalena Baerbock. Picture by Ben Dance/FCDO

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By Sunday, two days after his appointment, Mr Lammy embarked on visits to several European nations and he is expected to travel to India within a month in a bid to resolve outstanding differences between the two nations over a free trade agreement.It has been more than two years since the-then Conservative government in London and the New Delhi regime agreed in principle to a landmark FTA. However, the two sides have been bogged down in detailed discussions ever since.

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'Labour is ready to go'

In a message to Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Trade Minister Piyush Goyal, Mr Lammy, who has long been an advocate of closer ties with India, declared: "Labour is ready to go. Let’s finally get our free trade deal done and move on.”At the India Global Forum, held at the end of June in London, Mr Lammy said that, if Labour won last week's general election and he got the foreign secretary's job, he intended to visit India during his first month in office.He also stressed the importance of the UK working with India on a “free and open Indo-Pacific", adding: “We stand for a rules-based order and against those who wish to redraw borders by force with a new form of imperialism - like Mr Putin in Europe - and those in Asia who wish to impose their will on their neighbours denying them free choices. “Europe and Asia are not two separate worlds. In this challenging environment, Britain will seek to ramp up the security partnership with India - from military to maritime security, from cyber to critical and emerging technologies, from defence and industrial cooperation to supply chain security."

Europe also on the agenda

On relations with Europe, Mr Lammy hopes to be able to reduce the extra costs and bureaucracy that have been severely hampering UK-EU trade since Brexit. He will not, however, seek to rejoin the customs union or return to free movement.Labour also wants closer cooperation with Europe on scientific research and climate change projects; on a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks; on a new security pact; and to secure an agreement on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.Mr Lammy wasted no time in laying the groundwork for such moves by flying off on Sunday for discussions with his opposite numbers in Germany, Poland and Sweden. He then accompanied Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer to a Nato summit in Washington this week and will host a European Political Community gathering in London on July 18.  In an interview with the Guardian this week, he said: “The world is a dangerous divided place, and this is a tough, geopolitical moment with huge challenges for Britain, but I’m excited about the project which is reconnecting Britain with the global community.“Britain has to start reconnecting with the world. Let us put the Brexit years behind us. We are not going to rejoin the single market and the customs union but there is much that we can do together. I want to be absolutely clear, European nations are our friends.”

The US-UK relationship

Mr Lammy has also stressed the importance of cementing the 'special relationship' with the US. On China, Labour has stated it will adopt "a long-term and strategic approach" based on "cooperating where we can, competing where we need to, and challenging where we must".Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), responded to Labour's election victory by urging the new government to empower UK businesses of all sizes to trade as effectively, efficiently and sustainably as possible.He added: “We urge the government to prioritise placing trusted trade at the heart of their business agenda in order to stimulate sustainable economic growth and support job creation. Equipping businesses to trade internationally has the potential to future-proof the UK economy for generations to come.“IOE&IT stands ready to support an agenda that prioritises this transition to trusted trade, economic growth and we look forward to strengthening our long and trusted history of supporting British businesses, alongside the new government.” In its election manifesto, Labour said it would try to secure new FTAs with individual nations as well as seeking stand-alone sector deals, such as digital or mutual recognition agreements, to promote services exports.The party also undertook to initiate international discussions to modernise trade rules and agreements, promoting deeper trade and cooperation, including through the World Trade Organisation and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPATPP), of which the UK is set to become a full member later this year.As far as trade goes, it seems Mr Lammy already has a rather full agenda. And all this at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in the Middle East will require him to fully engage globally.

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