Government prepares for series of meetings to boost European relations

Sir Keir Starmer’s Government will engage in a frenzy of diplomacy as ministers push for a “significant improving” of security ties with Europe.

This week’s Nato summit and the UK-hosted European Political Community (EPC) gathering on July 18 provide early opportunities for face-to-face talks on the future of the UK’s relationship with its neighbours.

Sir Keir said it meant that a series of meetings which would normally take months to arrange could happen within the first fortnight of his premiership.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has been given the newly-created job of minister for European relations, has joined Sir Keir on the trip to Washington for the Nato gathering.

Foreign Secretary David Lammy and Defence Secretary John Healey are also in Washington.

Sir Keir’s first meeting in Washington was with Germany’s Olaf Scholz, underlining the importance the Prime Minister is placing on European diplomacy.

Mr Thomas-Symonds was also at the meeting with the German leader.

The Prime Minister told reporters he wanted to take full advantage of the diplomatic opportunities that the timing of the election had presented him with.

Sir Keir Starmer meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a landscaped area
Sir Keir Starmer meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington DC (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He said: “It has provided a really important window of opportunity for me and my team, because we’ve got the Nato summit within a week of the election, so we get the opportunity to strengthen our relations with various of the Nato leaders and others obviously that are there, including EU leaders.

“Now that is a follow up, if you like, on some of the phone calls that I’ve already had with international leaders that I’ve been doing since the King invited me to form a government.

“And then of course we’ve got the EPC coming up at the tail end of next week, so that’s why I wanted Nick and David and John and me – I want to make sure we take full advantage of this opportunity.

“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.

“The central purpose is obviously all about Nato but it is a very important opportunity to strengthen those relations.”

The Prime Minister wants to achieve an improved trading relationship with Brussels but he also wants greater defence co-operation with the EU.

He said: “On the defence and security pact this is really important to us. I do think there is scope for a significant improving of our defence and security relationship with the EU.

“I think this is complementary with Nato. Nato is still the cornerstone of defence in Europe and our approach on defence has always been Nato first.

“I do see scope for complementing that. That is why we are wanting to advance the defence and security pact or agreement with the EU.”