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Sir Keir Starmer is set to reject EU overtures to join a new multi-speed Europe that could include associate membership for the UK.
A senior Labour source told i the idea was a “non-starter” after France and Germany tabled a plan for a new multilayer model of EU membership that includes a plan to strengthen the bloc’s post-Brexit relationship with the UK.
An EU source suggested that the plan, while in the works for some time, is likely to have been partly designed with an idea of how the UK could fit in, amid reports that France and Germany see an opportunity for closer ties under a Labour government.
“There is of course interest to strengthen ties with the UK in this new cycle and ensure unity amongst Western partners,” the EU source told i.
i understands there is also a belief in the EU that Labour could become warmer to the plan when in power.
But despite Sir Keir’s call early this week for closer trading relations with the EU in the upcoming review of Boris Johnson’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) deal, a Labour spokesman said: “Labour will seek a better deal for Britain.
“This does not involve any form of membership.”
The Franco-German plan, which has been described as one of “concentric circles” as well as “Macron’s onion”, was published in a so-called “non-paper”.
The two countries are keen for a new model for the EU to cope with a bigger and still enlarging bloc, including four so-called circles of membership:
1. An so-called “inner circle” would include countries like France and Germany willing to sign up to radical integration like removing national votes on defence, foreign policy and security.
2. A second tier of nations that do not wish to cooperate at such a deep level.
3. An “associate outer tier” including countries in the single market like Norway, Switzerland or potentially the UK that would not be bound to the EU principle of “ever closer union”.
4. The existing European Political Community (EPC), of which the UK is a member, focused on diplomatic and political cooperation.
The plan emerged as Sir Keir met French President Emmanuel Macron for talks in Paris focused on strengthening “prosperity and security” and strengthening cross-Channel ties, although neither side said the pair discussed Brexit.
A senior Labour source said the Franco-German plan was a “non-starter” amid reports that associate membership could include single market obligations like signing up to the free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
But there were already signs of the Tories seizing on any suggestion of Labour seeking closer ties with the EU as an indication he wanted to unpick Brexit.
Meanwhile, the Brexit debate was climbing up the agenda within Labour as senior MP Stella Creasy said that 20 constituencies, including those of three shadow Cabinet ministers have signed a motion to be put to next month’s party conference calling on Sir Keir to make rebuilding relations with the EU a “priority” in his first term in office, should the party win the general election.
Ms Creasy, the chair of Labour Movement for Europe, told i that the inner circle plan was not featuring in the group’s thinking, but stressed it was important to look ahead to smooth over the future trade relationship with the EU to ease Brexit’s impact on the economy.
“Everyone is getting ahead of themselves right now, the point is to start talking because Brexit has created a load of problems,” she said.
“But it is good that what people are thinking about is what a relationship in 2025/26 could look like rather than trying to have the same arguments of 2016 and 2019.
“We are supportive of Keir… sitting down with people and starting the work.”
In Paris, Sir Keir sought to break the ice with an exchange of gifts that saw the leader give Mr Macron a personalised Arsenal shirt and receive cufflinks.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Labour leader said the “constructive and positive” talks covered a “wide range of topics” relating to global politics.
“It was my first opportunity to say how much I value the relationship between our two countries, particularly when it comes to prosperity and security and how, if we are privileged enough to be elected into power, we intend to build on that relationship and make it even stronger than it is today.”
He refused to be drawn when asked whether he believed President Macron was hoping for the election of a Labour government, but said it was important that they got to know one another and that he was “very pleased with the outcome”.
In a statement, the French government said the pair “discussed the need to guarantee economic and energy security in Europe and reaffirmed their desire to provide Ukraine and its people with ongoing support”.
“Finally, they talked about the importance of strengthening cooperation between France and the UK so that the partnership continues to ensure the French and British people’s prosperity and security.”
Sir Keir’s visit to Paris is the latest in a flurry of international engagements undertaken by Labour as the party leadership seeks to raise its profile on the global stage ahead of a likely general election next year.
He was joined by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy at a private dinner hosted by Hakluyt, a global strategic advisory firm, ahead of a planned breakfast with French businesses on Tuesday.
Sir Keir will use opening remarks to promise attendees he would “invest” in a Franco-British relationship on entering No 10, Labour said.