A Labour government would have a consistent position on China which would not boil down to one word – “threat”, the shadow foreign secretary has said.
David Lammy, in a wide-ranging discussion on foreign policy on the fringes of the Labour conference, also said Sir Keir Starmer’s party would “absolutely” review the post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, while staying out of the single market and customs union.
On China, he criticised what he described as the inconsistency of successive Tory governments in their approach to the Asian superpower.
“We need a consistent position on China. It cannot be boiled down to one word, which is threat.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has faced pressure from some in his party to describe the state as a “threat” to the UK, as he did during the Tory leadership contest last year, before softening his language, describing it as a “challenge”, since entering office.
Mr Lammy said Labour, if it wins power at the next election, would be “guided by the three Cs,” including competing with China on issues such as security, challenging China over Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighurs, and co-operating with Beijing.
“I hope we can co-operate with them on artificial intelligence,” he said.
On relations with Europe, Mr Lammy said: “We’ve been clear that whilst we will remain outside of the single market and the customs union, we absolutely believe that we should review the trade deal in 2025 and look at it very closely.”
Asked whether a rapprochement is possible without a path back into the single market, he outlined the need for “structured dialogue” with the EU, saying: “No-one in this room, in all seriousness, would suggest that you … could get married again without even going on a date.”
Mr Lammy said the “horror” in Israel and Gaza provided a “sad and worrying backdrop” for Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool, as he said Israel “has a right to self-defence and to defend itself against terrorism”.
He said he would not “mince my words” in describing Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
At an earlier fringe event, Mr Lammy said Sir Keir’s message does not have the “razzmatazz” of Sir Tony Blair’s election-winning campaign, but that is not what today’s electorate wants.
He suggested that while voters in the 1990s wanted ambition from politicians, they now want reassurance.
He stressed the importance of the party communicating its policies in a way that is relevant to people.
He told an event hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank: “We must not be seduced into tangential arguments that are the arguments of division around the woke issue, that of course I’m not suggesting aren’t important, but in the end are not about where most people are in their everyday lives.”
He said Sir Keir’s five missions are “as exciting as anything we’ve offered before”.
But, he acknowledged, “it hasn’t quite landed with the kind of razzmatazz that you would associate with the Clinton, Obama, Blair era of politics.
“I’m not sure, by the way, people are going to be seduced by that kind of (thing) because they’re just not in that place as an electorate.”
People are primarily focused on the economy and the state of public services, he said.
“We’re going nowhere if we do not reassure the British electorate that we can run the economy.”