Labour would aim to abolish the House of Lords says Starmer
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Senior Tories believe a Labour plan to hand Nicola Sturgeon foreign policy powers for Scotland is”testing the waters” for a Labour/ SNP pact after the next election. The proposal in a document authored by former PM Gordon Brown and backed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has drawn warnings from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly about a new political pact.
The policy document was launched today in Leeds and includes plans to replace the House of Lords with an elected Chamber.
But it also proposes new powers for devolved governments, including one which appears to be aimed at unpicking the Brexit settlement.
Recommendation 16 includes removing the reservation on foreign policy to allow the Scottish government to enter into international agreements and join international bodies in its own right.
It reads: “We therefore propose that the Scottish Government should, with the approval of the Scottish Parliament (and where appropriate the assistance of the UK government) be able to enter into agreements with international bodies, in so far as they relate to devolved matters only. Examples would include UNESCO, the Nordic Council or (if the EU were willing to agree) even the Erasmus scheme for student exchange.”
While the document refers specifically to Scotland it could also be expanded to Wales and Northern Ireland allowing different parts of the UK to have separate foreign policies.
The document does not mention the EU single market but with Northern Ireland staying under Brussels rule with the controversial protocol Sturgeon has been demanding a similar deal for Scotland.
The proposal appears to be a sop to the demands by nationalists led by Ms Sturgeon for her government to be given separate foreign powers.
She has been hankering after an opportunity for Scotland to rejoin the single market as part of the attempts to remove it from the UK.
While Labour currently opposes single market entry, the party’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made similar demands to negotiate separate foreign deals with the EU in the wake of Brexit.
Labour’s coalition partners in Wales Plaid Cymru have also suggested the Principality should be in the single market.
But Foreign Secretary James Cleverly fears the proposal is a serious one to prepare the way for a Labour/ SNP election pact after 2023.
While Labour currently has a large lead in the polls most observers as well as Downing Street believe the lead is “soft” and in reality Starmer will win a small majority or need SNP support to prop up a Labour government.
A source close to the Foreign Secretary said: “Britain’s Foreign Policy is there to represent all the nations of the of the U.K.
This idea seems the first tentative ‘’test the water” offer to try and build an SNP/Labour coalition. If that’s not enough to tempt the SNP, where might that end up? The offer of a second Independence referendum ?”
Already, Ms Sturgeon has been trying to run a separate foreign policy and held Brexit talks with Michelle Barnier as well as taking trips to meet other countries’ foreign ministers.
In August she went to Denmark on an official visit.
A Whitehall source said: “I think a Labour Foreign Office would find this a massive headache if they actually did it. The Scottish Government already tries to talk to Foreign Ministers as if they are Independent country ask Scotland Office SpAds for examples if you want them.”
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For the Tories the proposals confirm fears of a “Rejoiner Alliance” which could also include the Lib Dems.
The proposals were unveiled in Leeds by Labour but there was a focus on Scotland because the party needs to win back seats north of the Border.
Currently the only Scottish Labour MP is Edinburgh South’s Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish Secretary. But until 2015, Labour had 41 of the 59 seats in Scotland.
At the launch, Sir Keir promised root and branch reform.
He said: “Anyone can see what is happening in the UK today. We have an unbalanced economy.
“One which makes too little use of the talents of too few people in too few places. And which the Tories have dragged into a vicious cycle of low growth and high taxes.
“Faced with this narrow path of stagnation, is it any surprise that people up and down the country are crying out for a new approach?”
Sir Keir claimed that Labour will “reignite our economy”, adding: “If Labour wins the next election – Britain will see a change not just in who governs, but how we are governed.”
Sir Keir continued: “The tools to a fairer society and a stronger economy placed directly in the hands of working people. So together we can build an economy not just for the many, but by the many and of the many.
He pledged local bodies would have “new powers over skills, transport, planning and culture”, which he said would help to “drive growth by developing hundreds of clusters of economic activity”.
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