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A Labour government would reset relations with the EU, says top MEP

If Britain votes in a Labour government under Sir Keir Starmer next month, it would reset relations with the European Union and pave the way for a range of actions to improve trade, travel environment, and defence links between the two, according to MEP Terry Reintke.

Speaking to i, Ms Reintke said Labour could start the delicate but much-needed repair of Britain’s relations with the EU after years of acrimony under successive Conservative governments. “With a new government and a clean slate for the relationship, there will be space to rebuild,” she said.

Ms Reintke, who is co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance, one of the European Parliament’s powerful political groups, said the EU recognised Britain’s value as a partner in security and defence, notably with the war in Ukraine.

“Foreign policy, security and defence are going to play a much bigger role for the EU in the next five years, so it will be important for both the EU and the UK to have closer relations,” she said.

Ms Reintke said that the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House would likely bring the EU and UK closer. “We don’t know how the US elections are going to go, and this is putting pressure on all of us in Europe to be ready to act,” she said. “With the UK at our side, we will be much stronger. But the reverse is true for the case: for the UK, being closely aligned and cooperating closely on different questions – under the umbrella of Nato – is a win-win.” She added that one of the key areas of potential cooperation would be on developing green technologies in the face of fierce US and Chinese competition.

Sir Keir and his shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have suggested revising parts of Boris Johnson’s 2020 Brexit deal, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, notably by aligning with EU rules in the chemicals and veterinary sectors, and greater mutual recognition of qualifications for financial services workers.

Ms Reintke, like EU insiders, says that alignment would be welcome. “The less friction we have in the trade, the better for both sides,” she said. “We have seen how much red tape Brexit has brought – and how difficult it is for small and medium-sized companies.”

However, she warned that a new government should not expect selective access to the EU’s cherished single market. Echoing the “no cherry-picking” mantra of the EU’s former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, she said this was an all-or-nothing issue: as long as Sir Keir rules out single market membership and a customs union with the EU, there will always be a limit to how far they can go. “What will not happen is that you get one part of the single market and not another,” she said. “This is going to remain a negotiating position of the European Union, because we really need the integrity of the single market.”

Ms Reintke also underlined the opportunity for the UK to align with the EU on carbon taxes through their respective emissions trading schemes (ETS), where large polluters can trade allowances to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide. “These are the kind of proposals that would make sense,” she said. “The UK is not part of the EU’s ETS anymore, but staying as closely aligned as possible is really helpful, not only from a climate perspective but also from an economic perspective. We can see a race to the bottom and we want a global system – so this is not only about Europe. If we want to create a global system to decarbonise our industry and our economies, we should work together.”

Ms Reintke, who studied in Scotland under the Erasmus student exchange scheme, was particularly keen to see the EU and UK agree a deal on youth mobility. “This is obviously great for EU students, apprentices and young people,” she said. “It is also something that really benefits the UK. And I hope that we can get back on this path rather than having a very hostile attitude towards the European Union.”

She said that while Brexit has fallen down the EU’s policy agenda, there is a willingness in Brussels to repair the frayed relations. “Other MEPs and people in the European Commission all agree that strengthening the collaboration with a UK government that is more cooperative with the EU would be very much welcome.

“And to be honest, things could have been dealt with in a much easier and more constructive way if the Tory governments did not go for as hard a Brexit as possible.”

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