Keir Starmer urged to close 'serious gaps' in Labour's foreign policy agenda

A Labour government may lack the confidence needed to create new ties abroad, expert says

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been praised for restoring the party’s foreign policy to what it was 10 years ago, but urged to close ‘serious gaps’. Getty
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A government under the leadership of Labour's Keir Starmer would not be able to effectively forge new alliances for Britain with nations around the world, a foreign policy expert has concluded.

Mr Starmer’s determination to be elected prime minister and take up residence in Number 10 Downing Street has been clear since he was elected to lead the main opposition party in April 2020.

In a new report, he is credited for restoring the party’s foreign policy agenda close to what it resembled 10 years ago, but the author said there remain “serious gaps” in how Labour deals with international affairs.

Prof Azeem Ibrahim of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, analysed Labour’s foreign policy under Mr Starmer and looked at how a Starmer government would react to a crisis.

He argued Mr Starmer's approach to what happens overseas is “more assertive and more serious than that of any Labour leader since the general election of 2010 but still has serious gaps”.

In his opinion, Britain’s position on the world stage would probably not be as robust as it is today if Mr Starmer was at the helm.

Labour leader Keir Starmer holds a shadow cabinet meeting with deputy leader Angela Rayner, left, and shadow leader of the House of Lords Baroness Angela Smith, right. PA

In his report, The Prospective Foreign Policy of Keir Starmer, the award-winning international relations academic, who advised US President Joe Biden’s campaign on foreign policy in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, listed the following four takeaways:

· Mr Starmer favours maintaining Britain’s existing alliances “but [would] be unlikely to establish new ones.”

· He offers “ideological support” for the Biden administration’s foreign policy and for the broad goals of the EU.

· The Labour leader opposes “revisionist illiberal powers in Europe”, including Viktor Orban’s Hungary and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

· He seeks to work with other states on a case-by-case basis regarding issues such as climate change and decarbonisation.

Prof Ibrahim said two years into Mr Starmer’s tenure it is high time he laid out a “positive vision for Labour’s foreign policy” to give the world a taste of what a government led by him would be like.

“This is the first major assessment of Sir Keir Starmer’s foreign policy since he took over the leadership of the Labour party,” he said. “ Like most report cards, it is a mixed picture, but Sir Keir can take credit for restoring the Labour party’s foreign policy standing to closer to the party’s norm, before the aberrations of the previous 10 years.

“However, if the Labour party is – as Sir Keir says it is – a government in waiting, the time has come to set out a positive vision for Labour’s foreign policy that lets our adversaries and allies know the tenor it will take.”

Mr Starmer was elected leader of Labour in April 2020 after his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn announced he was stepping down following the party’s dismal results in the December 2019 general election.

Labour won 202 seats – its lowest number and proportion of seats since 1935 – as many traditional Labour voters backed the Tories following their pledge to “get Brexit done” after numerous delays.

In recent months he has been a strong critic of Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his breach of Covid-19 rules at Downing Street gatherings during lockdowns, for which he was fined.

The opposition leader was earlier this month revealed to be facing his own police investigation over allegations he broke lockdown restrictions by having a beer and takeaway food with staff during election campaigning last year.

Mr Starmer has vowed to resign as Labour leader if he is found guilty of breaking the rules and issued with a fine.

Prof Ibrahim’s report is published by The Henry Jackson Society.

Updated: May 30, 2022, 11:56 AM