Keir Starmer to re-negotiate TCA, reduce dependence on China as part of Labour economic policy

Mon 18 Sept 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Official Portrait of Keir Starmer

[Picture: Official portrait of Sir Keir Starmer, from Parliament's website (source)]

Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised to “wean” the UK off Chinese influence and put a better relationship with Brussels at the heart of UK economic policy, during a recent foreign policy blitz that showcased his foreign policy goals if Labour wins the next election..

Starmer told the Politico Power Play podcast, due to be released Thursday (21 September), that the UK needed to “wean itself off” China “when it comes to trade, commerce and technology.”

China, one of the world’s leading producers of a number of key commodities, such as lithium, banned the export of a pair of minerals critical to the green transition in July, citing the need to safeguard its interests.

Relations maintained

The Labour Leader acknowledged that it’s unlikely the UK would be able to completely separate from China, particularly concerning the materials needed to build a greener economy, and said it was one of the “big questions” facing progressive government.

Starmer’s move would put him more in line with the current Conservative PM Rishi Sunak, who has pursued a more hawkish attitude towards China since taking office, having declared the end of the ‘Golden Era’ for UK-China relations in his first major foreign policy speech upon entering Downing Street.

‘Business first’

This weekend, at a conference in Montreal for centre-left political party leaders, Starmer also committed to re-negotiating the current post-Brexit deal between the UK and EU, and said he would aim to put a closer relationship with the EU at the heart of the UK’s foreign and economic policy.

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is due for review in 2025 and Starmer told the FT that he saw this as an “important” moment to reset relations.

“Almost everyone recognises the deal Boris Johnson struck is not a good deal – it’s far too thin,” Starmer said. “As we go into 2025, we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK.”

Parallel moves

He ruled out the UK re-joining the customs union, the single market or the EU.

Grace Thompson, Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) UK public affairs lead, commented:

“It is clear that the Labour Party are very aware of the parallel dynamics of both the US-China decoupling and the need for the UK to move closer to the EU. Shadow foreign minister David Lammy had previously talked about his vision of a ‘Britain Reconnected outside of the EU but a leader in Europe once again’.

“What Starmer and his Cabinet are now advocating for with the EU is rebuilding relationships, re-engaging through a modified TCA, but not re-joining.”  

Better relations promised

Lammy told the Observer that Labour would introduce regular talks with the EU on matters critical to both parties, criticising the current ‘ad-hoc’ approach:

“We don’t currently meet with the European Union to discuss mutual issues of concern, whether on a biannual basis or on a quarterly basis. At the moment there is nothing. It is all ad hoc.

“We have got to get back to structured dialogue. What it means [without it] is that we are not in the room.”

Starmer is due to finish his foreign policy blitz with a visit to French president Emmanuel Macron tomorrow (19 September), having already met with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and by holding talks with Europol officials in the Hague over UK border strategy.