Where does UK's Labour stand on key foreign policy issues?

This is where the country's likely next prime minister stands on major international issues.

26 May 2024 07:00pm
A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer reacting after a statement by Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following the publication of the Infected Blood Inquiry final report, in the House of Commons, in London, on May 20, 2024. - Photo by AFP
A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer reacting after a statement by Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following the publication of the Infected Blood Inquiry final report, in the House of Commons, in London, on May 20, 2024. - Photo by AFP
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LONDON - The UK general election called for July 4 is Labour leader Keir Starmer's to lose, if opinion polls are to be believed.

This is where the country's likely next prime minister stands on major international issues.

Ukraine

The United Kingdom has been one of Kyiv's staunchest backers in its fight to repel Russia's invasion, providing money, weapons and training to troops.

That would continue under a Labour government, with Starmer, a former chief state prosecutor and human rights lawyer, last year pledging "unwavering support" for Ukraine.

His foreign affairs and defence spokesmen reaffirmed their "ironclad commitment" to the war effort during a visit to Kyiv this month, insisting there would be "no change" in UK support after the election.

Middle East

Starmer's policy on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza largely mirrors that of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservative government, but slight differences have started to emerge.

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Both have insisted that Israel has a right to defend itself within international law while also expressing concern at the numbers of Palestinians killed.

They support a ceasefire, if both sides in the conflict agree, and the release of Israeli hostages. They also back the creation of a Palestinian state as part of the Middle East peace process.

A member of Starmer's top team said recently that the UK should pause arms sales to Israel to stop an offensive in Rafah -- a position the British government has rejected.

China

Starmer told Politico last year that the UK needs to "wean itself off" China on issues like trade, commerce and technology while acknowledging it will have to cooperate on big stuff such as climate change.

Starmer has described China as a "strategic challenge" and is expected to follow the British government's increasingly tough rhetoric towards Beijing, including over recent allegations of spying and Chinese cyber attacks on the UK.

He has called for a policy towards Beijing that is "clear and settled" following the Conservatives' approach which veered from the "golden era" of close relations under former prime minister David Cameron to today's more hawkish stance.

Europe

Starmer, who voted against Brexit, wants a much closer relationship with the European Union than the one Britain has had since it voted to leave the bloc in 2016, leading to a messy divorce.

He is keen on a new agreement with the EU that would keep the UK aligned to the bloc's single market rules on food and other products, thereby easing border checks on such goods.

Such a deal may prove unpopular in Brexit-supporting areas of Britain, though, while the EU may insist on other agreements as well, making a new accord far from certain.

Starmer has ruled out returning to the European single market, customs union or free movement, but Labour does plan to pursue a British-German defence deal similar to one the UK has with France.

A youth mobility scheme proposed by the European Commission recently, making it easier for Britons aged 18-30 to live, study and work in the EU could also be included in a future relationship.

Apart from on immigration, "the next greatest difference is on tone over Europe where Labour is warmer", said Bronwen Maddox, director of the Chatham House international affairs think-tank.

"Aside from that -- on China, the US, Ukraine, defence spending -- the positions are almost identical," she added.

Climate

Labour plans to decarbonise the UK's electricity sector by 2030, including through the creation of a publicly owned clean energy company, and intends to make climate diplomacy a foreign policy priority.

It wants to establish a clean power alliance, what its foreign affairs spokesman David Lammy has called a "reverse OPEC" of countries committed to phasing out greenhouse gases.

Lammy wrote recently that Labour will try to reform international financial institutions "to provide far greater support for climate adaptation". - AFP

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