Politics

Keir Starmer Eyes Quick UK-EU Pact on Defense and Security

(Bloomberg) -- The UK’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, said he would accelerate efforts to forge closer ties with Europe, using this week’s NATO summit and next week’s meeting of the European Political Community to make progress toward a defense and security pact between Britain and the European Union. 

“I do think there is scope for a significant improving of our defense and security relationship with the EU,” Starmer, in office for less than a week, told reporters on the way to Washington, where he is expected to meet several European leaders including Germany’s Olaf Scholz at the NATO event. He said he hoped to “advance” on a new pact covering those areas, describing it as “really important to us.”

In a sign that Starmer wants to make quick progress on improving EU relations after his landslide win in the UK general election last week, he’s taking an unusually large entourage of ministers for a British premier at a NATO summit. Senior members of the new Labour government including Foreign Secretary David Lammy, Defense Secretary John Healey and European relations minister Nick Thomas-Symonds are traveling with his delegation.

“These are meetings that would probably take months and months and months for us to fit in as a team, if we were not taking advantage of this summit for the purposes of those relations, and the EPC,” Starmer told reporters. 

The role of Thomas-Symonds appears to be integral to the Starmer administration’s efforts to boost ties with Brussels. Responsibility for relations with the EU might typically be expected to fall under the remit of the foreign secretary or the Europe minister in the foreign office. 

Instead, Starmer chose to appoint Thomas-Symonds, a close ally, as a minister in charge of European relations within the cabinet office, a department which supports the prime minister. That puts him at the heart of government both metaphorically and physically, with an office located close to Starmer’s at Downing Street.

Thomas-Symonds is considering presenting the UK’s proposal for a security pact at the EPC next week, according to people familiar with the matter. That highlights the speed at which Starmer’s administration wants to move, but officials have warned them that they may have to wait for a later date, because EU member states are keen to retain the more informal structure of the EPC.

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