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Closer UK ties not an EU priority despite Labour hopes

Labour could struggle to strike a more ambitious post-Brexit deal for closer relations with Brussels because the UK is no longer a priority, EU insiders have warned.

Sir Keir Starmer hit out at the current arrangements as “not good enough” and Rachel Reeves promised to push for “bespoke” deals on specific issues to soften the economic impact of Brexit.

But sources in the European Commission have warned Labour that any changes must fit with the existing legal framework, agreed by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak over the past few years.

Brussels is currently in political flux after the European Parliament elections which saw a rise in support for the far right, with no confirmation yet on who will occupy the two most senior EU jobs and the leaders of France and Germany both weakened by the election results.

Speaking at a campaign event in Southampton on Monday, Sir Keir said: “We took a decision to leave the EU, so we are not going to go back in. But we think the deal we’ve got is botched, it’s not good enough and I think many businesses would say ‘we need something that works better for us’.

“Because if you make it more difficult to trade, guess what? It’s not so successful from our point of view. We do think there’s a better deal to be had, obviously that will have to be negotiated.”

His comments came after Ms Reeves, the shadow Chancellor, said she was willing to align regulations with the EU in key areas to boost trade ties, telling the Financial Times: “I don’t think anyone voted Leave because they were not happy that chemicals regulations were the same across Europe.”

She also pointed to mutual recognition of professional qualifications as a move Labour would pursue.

But senior EU sources have warned that there is little appetite in Brussels for rewriting either the withdrawal agreement or the trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) which were signed by Mr Johnson and finessed last year by Mr Sunak under the Windsor framework.

An insider praised Labour’s “ambition” but added: “There isn’t really a team of people following every single announcement within the campaign. Most people in Brussels won’t even have noticed Rachel Reeves’s latest. It’s not at the top of their agendas, currently.”

The source warned: “The EU is a legal construct that moves within a legal space – which means that we currently have a legal space based on two main agreements, the withdrawal agreement and the TCA, and that that is legal space within which the relationship currently stands.”

The Irish Government, which was boosted during the years after the 2016 Brexit referendum by the support of other EU member states, is understood to be concerned that the issue is less of a priority for its allies now.

A senior Dublin source said: “The important thing for us is keeping the whole of the EU with us. For everyone in Europe apart for Ireland and the UK, Brexit is ancient history now.”

Labour has promised not to take the UK back into the European single market or customs union, or to allow the freedom of movement between Britain and the EU.

The party has not yet set out a firm position on whether it would be willing to consider allowing the European Court of Justice oversight of any post-Brexit arrangements, which some in Brussels say is crucial for building closer ties.

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