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7 May 2024

Why David Lammy is courting France

Labour is building deeper European relations in advance of a potential Trump victory this November.

By Freddie Hayward

Labour’s connections in Washington DC are well-documented. David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, is friends with Barack Obama and organised a meeting between the former president and Keir Starmer. Rachel Reeves has taken inspiration from the US treasury secretary Janet Yellen, while Lammy has spent time courting senior Republican figures, such as the Donald Trump cabinet hopeful JD Vance, the former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and Matt Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

The party’s links in Europe are not as well-advertised – but I hear Lammy is devoting significant time to building links with French lawmakers and Emmanuel Macron’s Élysée Palace. Such connections will be essential if the party enters government. A security pact with the EU is a top priority for its first year in office. Labour has also said Britain’s illegal migration challenge will only be solved through cooperation with the Europeans. Then there’s the plan to smooth the edges of Brexit with, for instance, a veterinary agreement.

The opportunity is there: Macron has been pushing the UK to host the European Political Community conference, which the government finally announced would take place at Blenheim Palace in July. The French president told the Economist on 29 April that he wants to “deepen this partnership” with Britain.

Starmer has told his team to spend their time before the election preparing the ground to ensure they can deliver immediately if elected. To that end, Lammy has had numerous meetings with senior figures in the French political establishment. He has built a good relationship with the Macron ally and former transport minister Clément Beaune and the MP Benjamin Haddad, who in February said the UK should be key to Europe’s security in the face of a Trump victory, and has met with the former French president François Hollande.

Meanwhile his team has held multiple briefings for French MPs, MEPs and officials, and is in contact with Macron’s personal advisers as well as figures in the French foreign ministry. Lammy has also started tweeting in languages other than English, including French, in a concerted effort to reach beyond the Anglophone diplomatic world. Yesterday, the French journal Le Grand Continent published an interview with Lammy, which fleshed out his “progressive realist” foreign policy.

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What’s going on here? The party recognises that the fractious relations with Europe under the Tories has left it a lot of low-hanging fruit – if only it obeys diplomatic protocol. Lammy’s trips across the Channel reflect that Labour is anxiously waiting to see whether Trump succeeds in November, which would cast uncertainty across European security. This is, ultimately, an investment in relations with the French, a gambit to heal the Brexit divides and, with it, further Britain’s interests.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: What is Starmerism?]

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