Sir Keir Starmer has promised to seek a major rewrite of Britain’s Brexit deal in 2025 if Labour wins the next general election, saying he owes it to his children to rebuild relations with the EU.
Starmer told the Financial Times that he would put a closer trading relationship with Brussels and a new partnership with business at the heart of his efforts to bolster Britain’s economic growth.
Britain’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, negotiated by former premier Boris Johnson, is due for review in 2025 and Starmer said he saw this as an “important” moment to reset relations.
“Almost everyone recognises the deal Johnson struck is not a good deal — it’s far too thin,” he said in an interview. “As we go into 2025 we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK.”
Starmer was speaking at a conference of centre-left leaders in Montreal. The trip was part of an effort by the Labour leader, whose party currently enjoys typical poll leads of 15-20 per cent over the ruling Conservatives, to present himself as a prime minister-in-waiting.
On Saturday he held talks with Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and on Tuesday he will travel to Paris for talks with French president Emmanuel Macron, in which post-Brexit relations will feature heavily.
Starmer has already said he wants to improve the Brexit deal by striking a veterinary agreement with the EU — reducing onerous border checks on animals and food — along with an agreement on the recognition of professional qualifications.
Speaking on the margins of the Global Progress Action conference this weekend, he said: “I think there’s more that can be achieved across the board.”
He talked about closer ties in areas such as security, innovation and research; some Labour figures have discussed trying to improve youth mobility and closer co-operation in energy. But Starmer reiterated his decision to rule out rejoining the customs union, the single market or the EU itself.
Asked if he would seek to remove friction on other forms of trade, he said: “I do think we can have a closer trading relationship as well. That’s subject to further discussion.”
It is far from clear whether the EU would wish to renegotiate the trade deal, which only came into force in 2021, particularly if it involved Britain selectively choosing only parts of the single market. Many in Brussels see the 2025 review as simply a tidying-up exercise.
But Starmer said: “We have to make it work. That’s not a question of going back in. But I refuse to accept that we can’t make it work. I think about those future generations when I say that.
“I say that as a dad. I’ve got a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. I’m not going to let them grow up in a world where all I’ve got to say to them about their future is, it’s going to be worse than it might otherwise have been. I’ve got an utter determination to make this work.”
Separately, Starmer said that his plans for funding the party’s wider economic programme would not require new taxes on the rich.
“We haven’t had significant growth for 13 years,” he said. “We have to turn that around. It’s an in-principle error to go to tax rather than growth as your first priority.”