Keir Starmer promises ‘respectful engagement’ with Irish Government if elected prime minister

Labour leader says he is ‘acutely aware of the issues at play’ in Anglo-Irish relations

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised “respectful engagement” with the Republic if he becomes Britain’s prime minister in July, following a series of fallouts between the State and the Tory government in recent years over immigration, the North and Brexit.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Tuesday at an election campaign event in Worcester in the West Midlands, Mr Starmer said he was “acutely aware of the issues at play” in current Anglo-Irish relations, strained most recently by migrants claiming asylum in Dublin after fleeing Britain.

He highlighted the five years that he previously spent as a human rights adviser to the PSNI in the North, and suggested he would lean on this experience to improve relations between the two governments if Labour wins the election on July 4th.

“It’s very important that we work closely with our near neighbours in Ireland,” said Mr Starmer.

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“I’ve always found that respectful engagement is the way forward in our relations, so I think with that approach we can make some real progress.”

If Labour does defeat the Tories as expected in just over five weeks, the most immediate Ango-Irish issue in the next prime minister’s in-tray would be the recent legal case taken by the Republic against Britain. It is over the Tory government’s Legacy Act, which gives immunity to certain people, such as British soldiers, over acts committed during the Troubles.

The Government and victims groups in the North oppose the Act passed by the Tories, and the State is suing Britain over it in the European Court of Human Rights.

Labour has promised to repeal the Act if it wins the election, although it hasn’t proposed a timeline.

In addition to his time working in the North, Starmer’s closest advisers have significant Irish links.

His campaign director and top aide is Macroom man Morgan McSweeney, while Labour’s campaign coordinator is Pat McFadden MP, the Glaswegian son of Gaeilgeoir parents from Falcarragh in Donegal.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times