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What Labour's UK election win could mean for Brits in Europe

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
What Labour's UK election win could mean for Brits in Europe
EU flags are waved near Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben in London. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

The UK's new Prime Minister Keir Starmer has swept into Downing Street in a landslide victory. But how will a Labour government affect Brits in Europe? And what, if anything, will the former 'Remainer' do about Brexit?

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The Labour party won a landslide victory in the UK general election on Thursday, bringing an end to 14 years of Conservative party rule.

Labour majority

The new Labour government enters office at a time of high political and economic uncertainty, stagnant growth, public services pushed to breaking point, and Britain’s international reputation tarnished after the Conservative government staggered from calamity to calamity in recent years.

Leading up to the election, the question was not if Labour would win but when, and how big the majority will be. In the end Labour won one of the biggest landslides in British political history, taking 412 seats. 

What the new Labour government does (or more likely, doesn’t) do with its massive majority could have big implications on life for approximately 1.3 million UK nationals living throughout the EU.

Writing exclusively for The Local after his party's election win, the UK's new Foreign Secretary David Lammy said Britain would reset its ties with the EU.

"As the new British Foreign Secretary, with our Prime Minister Keir Starmer, this government will reset relations with Europe as a reliable partner, a dependable ally and a good neighbour."

Lammy added: "We must do more to champion the ties between our people and our culture. Holidays, family ties, school and student exchanges, the arts, and sport (I was of course cheering on England in the Euros…). Thanks to this, our citizens benefit from the rich diversity of our continent.

"If we are to fulfil our ambitions for a reset, we must also improve Britain’s relationship with the European Union... I look forward to seeing Britain reconnect with our European neighbours in the years ahead."

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For many Brits in Europe (as well as those in the UK), the elephant in the room is, of course, Brexit.

Starmer and Labour’s Brexit policy

But what, if anything, does a Labour government actually mean for Brexit and Brits in Europe?

For many, Starmer first came to national prominence in his role as shadow Brexit secretary under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He was then an ardent Remainer, and largely responsible for Labour’s eventual position on a second referendum, demanding that the British people deserve a “confirmatory vote” on Europe.

How things have changed. In the build-up to the election Starmer categorically ruled out the idea of rejoining the single market and the customs union, let alone a second referendum on rejoining the EU. He has, however, stated that he will take steps to ease trade barriers and sign a bolstered security agreement with Brussels.

Asked recently by the British press if he could envision Britain re-entering the EU in his lifetime, Starmer was unequivocal. “No. I don’t think that that is going to happen,” he said. “I’ve been really clear about not rejoining the EU, the single market or the customs union – or a return to freedom of movement.”

These comments sparked a certain amount of anger and disappointment among many Brits in Europe. Although they were made before the actual election with Starmer still in campaign mode.

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In essence, despite his Remain-backing past, Starmer’s position seems to be that Labour can improve the Brexit deal signed by the Johnson government in January 2020, rather than tear it up or try and force the UK back into the EU on new terms.

For those hoping to rejoin the EU one day, this will be disappointing. Brexit became something of an internal psychodrama for the Conservative party, yet Starmer’s Labour appear to have accepted it as the political framework and don't dare reopen the debate.

So for the hundreds of thousands of UK nationals living in Europe there will be no return of their freedom of movement and EU citizenship anytime soon.

So will Labour change anything for Brits in Europe?

Labour has been tight-lipped on what its Brexit policy will actually mean in practical terms, but of the few concrete proposals it has outlined so far there are plans to revamp a veterinary deal on animal products to ease on paperwork and border checks, as well as making it easier for qualifications to be recognised abroad.

Labour has also promised to enshrine rights to consular assistance for UK citizens abroad in cases of human rights violations, and to make reciprocal arrangements for touring artists and musicians moving between the UK and EU.

In terms of broad strokes commitments, however, it's hardly ambitious.

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Some economic experts have suggested that rejoining the single market or customs union would significantly boost the British economy, so some hold out hope that the political and economic reality may force the new Labour government to reconsider its position on Europe somewhere down the line.

What about the roll out of the the EU's new EES border system?

Britons travelling to Europe will face likely travel disruption when the EU finally rolls out its new biometric border checks known as Entry/Exit System or just EES.

There had been much talk of the UK government trying to get the rollout delayed in a bid to avoid or at least postpone the likely chaos. Could Keir Starmer's government put pressure on the EU to delay EES?

Well the main point to note is that it's up to the EU when it rolls out EES, not the UK government. It is due to be launched in October or November although an exact date has not been announced. However if there is any delay it will likely be because of concerns on the EU side rather than because of pressure from the UK.

READ ALSO: When will Europe's new EES passport system be launched?

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