Keir Starmer aims at repairing ‘bridges Tories have burnt’

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Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour party leader, will pledge on Saturday to boost Britain’s standing in the world and repair “the smouldering cinders of the bridges the Tories have burnt”, as he seeks to establish himself on the world stage.

Starmer will meet a number of world leaders, including Canadian premier Justin Trudeau, at a conference of centre-left politicians in Montreal this weekend before heading to Paris at the invitation of French president Emmanuel Macron next week.

The leader of the UK’s main opposition party will say in Montreal that if he wins the next election he will rebuild Britain’s international partnerships, which he claims have been weakened by the fallout from Brexit and undermined by Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government.

Starmer will challenge Sunak to state categorically that he will face down those Conservative MPs who want Britain to pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights.

He will tell the Global Progress Action Summit that Labour is committed to the ECHR and claim Sunak’s “equivocation” is damaging Britain’s global influence and preventing the country from leading on the world stage.

“Their drum beat of threats to pull out of the ECHR is nothing more than a desperate attempt by a failing government to whip up division in order to cling to power, with the consequences for Britain’s security and prosperity an afterthought,” he will say.

Migrants rescued from a boat crossing the English Channel
Migrants rescued from a boat crossing the English Channel: Rishi Sunak says the Illegal Migration Act is compatible with the UK’s global obligations © TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Sunak has said his plan to send cross-channel migrants to Rwanda is compatible with Britain’s international obligations, including the ECHR, but the policy is being challenged in the courts.

“Our Illegal Migration Act will deliver the changes necessary to reduce the incentives for people to risk their lives through illegal crossings while remaining party to the ECHR,” Downing Street said on Friday.

The government has previously declined to comment on “speculation” that Sunak might propose leaving the ECHR if the Rwanda policy were ruled to be illegal.

Starmer, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, will say that even a veiled threat to leave the ECHR would leave Britain “floundering in the same grubby waters as Russia and Belarus”.

“Rishi Sunak must now stand up to the wreckers in his own party and — for once — put British security above the narrow interests of the Tory party,” he will say.

Sunak argues that he has already significantly raised Britain’s standing on the world stage, notably by repairing relations with the EU with a remedy for the row over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The prime minister has also signed a defence pact with the US and Australia and inked political agreements with Macron and US president Joe Biden. In November he will host an international summit on artificial intelligence.

Starmer will paint a less rosy picture, telling delegates the west faces “an axis of instability” from climate change, people-smuggling gangs, terrorism and assaults on democracy.

“After 13 years of narrowing our influence and our strength, the smouldering cinders of the bridges the Tories have burnt now stand between us and the alliances and agreements that will determine the future,” he will say.

Starmer travelled to The Hague this week for talks with Europol, the EU’s crime agency, and announced plans to strike a returns agreement with Brussels to share the burden of migration across the continent if Labour wins the general election expected next year.

That policy was strongly attacked by the Conservatives, with Suella Braverman, the home secretary, saying Starmer would make Britain a “dumping ground” for migrants arriving illegally in EU countries.

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