NATO summit and repairing relations with EU among first tasks of new UK PM

NATO summit and repairing relations with EU among first tasks of new UK PM

LONDON (AP) — Keir Starmer, Britain’s new prime minister, can’t catch a break.

After a gruelling six-week election campaign, the centre-left politician must now get to work forming his government, tackling a mountain of domestic problems and putting his stamp on Britain’s relations with the rest of the world.

It’s a daunting list for a new leader who has never served in a government — let alone led one. But Starmer insisted he is up to the challenge of leading the U.K. in a world that is “a more volatile place” than it has been for many years.

Appoint a government

Like someone moving into a new home with IKEA furniture, Starmer’s first task was to put together a cabinet.

Starmer began forming his government shortly after walking through the door of 10 Downing Street on Friday afternoon following his landslide election victory. He has a plethora of lawmakers to choose from — his Labour Party won more than 400 seats in Thursday’s election, nearly two-thirds of the 650-seat House of Commons.

Key figures in the new administration include Finance Minister Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist and the first woman to hold that post, who will serve as a liaison with international financial institutions.

The new foreign secretary, Britain’s top diplomat, is David Lammy, a Harvard Law School graduate who has promised to “rewire Britain for our security and prosperity at home.”

Forging friendships on the world stage

Starmer has said his message to the world from the UK is: “We’re back.” He wants his country to take a bigger role on the global stage after years of bitter relations with Europe over Brexit and the political soap opera that followed within the UK.

In the hours after taking office, the new prime minister held a series of calls with leaders around the world, including US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Union leader Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He also sent Lammy on a weekend trip to Germany, Poland and Sweden.

Starmer takes office at a time of multiple crises — including wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, a rising far right and a flexing China — that will test the cool head he honed in his former role as Britain’s chief prosecutor.

Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute — a military defense and security think tank — said that with France facing a far-right surge in midterm elections and the United States embroiled in a polarized and high-stakes presidential election, the U.K. “has the most stable government of any major Western democracies.”

“Therefore, he has the opportunity and the responsibility to help steady the ship of Western unity at a time of exceptional political fluidity,” he added.

Starmer will make a high-profile international debut by flying to Washington on Tuesday for Nato’s 75th anniversary summit. The meeting is overshadowed by questions about Biden’s fitness and the uncertain outcome of November’s US presidential election.

Starmer has said there will be no change to the UK’s steadfast support for Ukraine and has promised to increase the country’s military spending to 2.5% of GDP – although he has not set a date for this.

“The decision for Starmer is how much to try to persuade the US — as well as other wavering NATO members — to remain a defender of Ukraine, not just on grounds of sovereignty but also of European security,” said Bronwen Maddox, director general of the international affairs think tank Chatham House.

Starmer also faces divisions within his party over Israel’s war with Hamas. Several Labour lawmakers were defeated in the election by challenges from pro-Palestinian independents angered by the party’s initial refusal to unambiguously call for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

Fix things with the neighbors

On July 18, Starmer will host leaders from across Europe at Blenheim Palace in England for a meeting of the 47-nation European Political Community. It is a chance to begin repairing the U.K.’s ties with its neighbors in Europe — which have frayed and soured since the country left the European Union in 2020.

Starmer says he wants to reduce some of the post-Brexit barriers to people and goods that have hampered relations between the U.K. and the bloc. But he insists he will not reverse Brexit or rejoin the EU’s single market or customs union.

Critics say it shows a lack of principle, but supporters say it respects Britons’ desire not to reopen the divisive debate over leaving the bloc.

Tackling a long to-do list

Starmer also faces a huge range of domestic challenges, underpinned by a widespread sense that many facets of British public life have collapsed during 14 years of Conservative rule.

Stagnant growth and low productivity are holding back the economy as millions struggle with the cost of living. The country’s ageing infrastructure is creaking and the state-funded National Health Service is stretched to the limit, with long waiting lists for treatment – ​​a situation made worse by a long-running series of doctors’ strikes. Ending that dispute will be a priority, but Starmer has promised to keep a tight rein on spending and will be unwilling to agree to the big pay rises doctors are demanding.

Starmer is promising to take control of migration and stop people making dangerous journeys across the English Channel in small boats, but is abandoning the Conservative government’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda – he declared the Rwanda deal “dead and buried” on Saturday. The UK has paid Rwanda hundreds of millions of pounds as part of the deal without a single flight having taken off.

He is also expected to underline Britain’s commitment to tackling climate change after a series of setbacks under the Conservative government.

The new government’s legislative plans for the coming year will be outlined in a speech by King Charles III at the State Opening of Parliament on 17 July.

“A lot of people have a sense of potential transformation,” said Lise Butler, a senior lecturer in modern history at City University of London. “I think there will be high expectations for Starmer, which will be difficult to meet.”


Associated Press video journalist Kwiyeon Ha contributed to this report.

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