Nandy: Tories have “chased trade deals” at expense of “proper foreign policy”

Elliot Chappell

Lisa Nandy has declared that the Conservative Party has “chased growth and trade deals at the expense of having a proper foreign policy in relation to the world” over its past ten years in government.

In an online interview with Politico this evening, the Shadow Foreign Secretary slammed the government over its handling of relations with the UK’s EU allies, and over its approach to major political powers China and the US.

Nandy told the virtual audience that a Biden win in the imminent US election would be a “real game-changer for the world” but voiced concerns over the way in which the Conservative UK government has interacted with both candidates.

She said: “Whoever is in the Whitehouse, we have to have a relationship with. It has to be a constructive relationship, but it also has to be one that is robust and stands up for British interests.

“My concern about approach that the Tory Party have taken, and the position that they’ve left Britain in as we approach that momentous day next week, is that they’ve proven themselves unwilling or unable to stand up to the Trump administration.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary added: “At the same time, they have needlessly and repeatedly created tension in the relationship with the Democrats and with the Biden potential administration.”

She highlighted in particular one occasion on which Boris Johnson claimed that Democrat President Barack Obama removing a bust of Churchill from his office was seen by some as a sign of an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire”.

Nandy accused the Tories of having “weakened our relationships with both and left us at a particularly precarious moment in a world that feels increasingly unstable, where friends and alliance have never been more important”.

Nandy told the audience this evening that it is her job, as well as that of Labour leader Keir Starmer, to do everything possible to “reach out to the Biden administration, to the Democrats, and build those ties”.

She also added that the strategy of trashing our relationship with EU friends and allies in order to position the UK closer to the US had shown itself to be “hollow as a jug” – in the words of George Orwell – over the last few months.

On Brexit and the Tory Party win at the last general election on its ‘get Brexit done’ slogan, Nandy said she thought that it was a rejection of Labour more than a “wholesale embrace of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party”.

The Wigan MP argued that a sense that Labour had been moving “for quite some time” away from Leave-voting areas and constituencies like the one she represents had a significant impact on the outcome of the election in December 2019.

She said: “The Brexit decision that were made by the party were very much a part of that too. In the end I think people were willing to give us a hearing on Brexit but what they weren’t willing to do was be ignored or disrespected.”

Labour committed in its last general election manifesto to giving people the “final say on Brexit” by securing deal within three months and then submitting that deal to a public vote alongside an option to Remain in the EU.

“Boris Johnson went into that election with a couple of very simple promises,” Nandy said. “He said he would get Brexit done – deliver his oven-ready deal – and he said that he would level up the North…

“The problem now for Boris Johnson is that it has become apparent that he had absolutely no strategy for doing that… They are not so much levelling up now as levelling down and I think they won’t be forgiven for that…

“They were very clear promises that were made in December and seemingly it looks like the Prime Minister may not be able to deliver on any of the promises that he made. I think people will find that very, very difficult to forgive.”

Asked about Labour’s approach to foreign policy under Starmer’s leadership, she emphasised the importance of consistency for the UK’s “moral authority and standing throughout the world”.

She explained: “That is one of the principles that informs the different approach to China and Russia that we’ve taken.”

Labour has repeatedly criticised the government over what it has called an inconsistent approach to China, warning that it has been “going after China for its investment without regard to the consequences for national security”.

The relationship between the UK and China became increasingly strained earlier this year after the Chinese government imposed severe new security laws in Hong Kong and the British government offered Hong-Kongers a route to the UK.

Labour at the time welcomed the plans to offer citizenship to all British nationals in Hong Kong, but criticised the government for what it described as a “deeply confused” relationship with China.

The Conservative announced that mobile providers must remove 5G kit supplied by Huawei by 2027 in a major U-turn earlier this year after concerns were raised over the state-backed company’s involvement in UK internet infrastructure.

But Labour reminded the public at the time that the government is “pressing ahead with nuclear power projects”, such as one in Bradwell, that will give the Chinese government “significant access to our nuclear system and our energy system”.

She added this evening: “We have to be very, very clear when it comes to China that the actions in Hong Kong that erode the Sino-British declaration, the appalling persecution of the Uighurs.

“That is something that we [Labour] will never shy away from. We will not let ideology blind us to that appalling persecution or other acts of harm against people on the other side of the world.

“And our job in the Labour Party is not to stand up for governments that are committing appalling acts against their own citizens. Our job is to stand up for Britain and to stand up for those values around the world.”

Nandy argued Britain must work better with other countries to avoid a repeat of the Huawei row, in which she said the country was “squeezed in a fight between two global superpowers without the strategic independence to stand up to either”.

She added: “We need a strategy from this government, which has been lacking now for almost a decade. We have chased growth and trade deals at the expense of having a proper foreign policy in relation to the world.

“For far too long, we’ve lacked a strategy at home, a strategy abroad, when it comes those major geopolitical challenges.

“I think what the next few weeks will show, as we leave the transition period with the EU and as we get the result of the US elections, is that the UK government will have to urgently rethink that approach.”

The transition period for the UK exiting the EU is set to end on December 31st. Johnson told voters that would deliver an ‘oven-ready’ deal during the general election campaign as part of his pledge to the electorate to ‘get Brexit done’.

The Conservative government signed the withdrawal agreement with the EU in January this year but has since brought forward the controversial internal market bill, which intentionally overwrites sections of that agreement.

Candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden are in the final week of campaigning in the US election. 70 million people are thought to have already voted by post, and the Democrats are currently ahead in the polls.

An average of ten polls indicates that just over 50% of voters intend to back Biden while Trump’s support is trailing behind by around seven or eight points. Trump has been keen to emphasise his upset in the 2016 election, defying polls at the time.

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