New British Prime Minister Starmer seeks to improve on 'botched' trade deal with European Union

LONDON — LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Keir Starmer is seeking to reset relations at home and abroad.

During a visit Sunday to Edinburgh, that he billed as an “immediate reset” with the regional governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Starmer said he would also seek to improve the U.K.’s “botched” trade deal with the European Union.

“I do think that we can get a much better deal than the botched deal that (former Prime Minister) Boris Johnson saddled the U.K. with,” he said in reference to the pact negotiated after Brexit.

Starmer said there were many discussions ahead to strengthen trading, research and defense ties with the EU. But he said those talks had begun as his top diplomat made his first visit abroad to Germany, Poland and Sweden.

With two of Starmer’s ministers in Europe ahead of a NATO meeting next week, the premier made a point of visiting the leaders of the regional governments in the U.K. following his party’s landslide victory last week.

Starmer, who said he has a “mandate to do politics differently,” met with Scottish First Minister John Swinney in an effort to “turn disagreement into cooperation.”

“We will serve every single person in Scotland,” Starmer told a group of enthusiastic supporters. “Performance, self-interest: they’re the politics of the past. The politics of this Labour government of 2024 is about public service, restoring standards of making sure that we always, always have in our mind’s eye the people who elected us into government.”

While each of the devolved nations in the U.K. elects members to the House of Commons in London, they also have their own regional parliaments.

Starmer’s Labour Party trounced Swinney’s Scottish National Party for seats in Parliament. But the SNP, which has pushed for Scottish independence, still holds a majority at Holyrood, the Scottish parliament.

Swinney said after meeting the prime minister that he believed there’s an opportunity to work together to make a difference for the Scottish people.

The trip to build better working relations across the U.K. comes as Starmer’s government faces a mountain of problems.

The Labour government inherited a wobbly economy that left Britons struggling to pay bills after global economic woes and fiscal missteps. It also faces a public disenchanted after 14 years of chaotic Conservative rule and fiscal austerity that hollowed out public services, including the revered National Health Service, which Starmer has declared broken.

Starmer said he wants to transfer power from the bureaucratic halls of government in London to leaders who know what’s best for their communities.

After his two-day tour, he’ll return to England, where he plans to meet with regional mayors, saying he would engage with politicians regardless of their party.

“There’s no monopoly on good ideas,” he said “I’m not a tribal political.”

Starmer continued to speak with other world leaders, having separate calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He spoke with both about his priorities for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, the return of hostages to Israel, and an increase in humanitarian aid, a spokesperson said.

He told Abbas that the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of a peace process was the “undeniable right of Palestinians” and told Netanyahu it was important to ensure the long-term conditions for a two-state solution, including ensuring financial means for Abbas’ Palestinian Authority to operate effectively.

Labour’s initial refusal to call for a ceasefire last year is blamed for costing it support and some seats in Thursday’s election.

In advance of Starmer’s attendance Tuesday at a NATO meeting in Washington, Foreign Secretary David Lammy reiterated an “unshakeable” commitment to the alliance during his first trip abroad.

Lammy said that the U.K. government would tighten relations with the European Union and remains “ironclad” in its support for Ukraine.

“European security will be this government’s foreign and defense priority,” Lammy said in Poland. “Russia’s barbaric invasion has made clear the need for us to do more to strengthen our own defenses.”

However, Lammy reiterated Starmer’s pledge not to rejoin the EU single market after British voters in 2016 voted to break from the political and economic union.

“Let us put the Brexit years behind us,” Lammy told The Observer. “We are not going to rejoin the single market and the customs union but there is much that we can do together.”

Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds said Sunday on Sky News that the U.K. should look for ways to improve trade with the EU and that removing some trade barriers was sensible.

But he said the Labour government was not open to the free movement of people that was required as a member of the union.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary John Healey met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Odessa and said the U.K. would provide a new package of support to Ukraine, including more artillery guns and nearly 100 Brimstone missiles.

Healey also said he would make sure the remaining military commitments to Ukraine by the previous government would be delivered within 100 days.

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