Lammy: Trump has the ‘right concern’ about European defence spending

The shadow foreign secretary has sought to build diplomatic relationships with both Democrats and Republicans ahead of the US election.

PA Reporters
Friday 17 May 2024 20:40 BST
David Lammy has said Labour would seek to work with whoever is in the White House (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
David Lammy has said Labour would seek to work with whoever is in the White House (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Donald Trump has “the right concern” about European defence spending, David Lammy said as he resisted calls from Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan to challenge the Republican presidential candidate on his views.

The shadow foreign secretary said some countries are not committing enough money and that the UK could share a “common cause” with the US in pushing for that to “improve”.

Mr Trump prompted alarm in western capitals earlier this year when he suggested he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to Nato allies failing to meet their financial obligations.

Mr Lammy has sought to build diplomatic relationships with both Democrats and Republicans ahead of the US election this year, promising that Labour would work with whoever returns to the White House to preserve the transatlantic “special relationship”.

However, in an interview with Politico published earlier this week, London Mayor Mr Khan said Britain should call out Mr Trump as a “racist, sexist” and “homophobe”.

Asked whether he would heed his party colleague’s advice, the shadow foreign secretary told an Institute for Government event on Friday: “This is a profoundly serious moment and it requires seriousness. That seriousness means that the special relationship between the United Kingdom and our American friends is core not just to our own national security, but security of much of the world.

“So, just like Wilson, Nixon, Blair, Bush, whoever is in the White House in a big election year in the United States or whoever is in No 10 in a big election year in our own country, of course we must work together.

“The truth is that you’re going to be hard-pressed to find any politician, particularly politicians who were on the back benches, who haven’t had something to say about Donald Trump.

“I take very seriously the responsibility of being on the front bench and the responsibility of finding common cause on behalf of the national interests of this country.”

Mr Lammy also expanded on recent remarks in which he described the former president’s approach to Nato as “misunderstood”, saying he had been referring specifically to European defence spending.

“He (Mr Trump) in his own unique way, I think, is concerned about burden-sharing across Europe – that is a concern shared by my friend Barack Obama, it is a concern that has been echoed since Kennedy, and it is the right concern because it is still the case that there are European countries not spending as much as they should on defence and that needs to improve, and that is something where the United Kingdom can join common cause with the United States,” the shadow minister said.

It marks a shift in tone from 2017 when the Labour frontbencher described Mr Trump as “racist” and a “Nazi sympathiser,” saying he would protest on the streets if the then-president visited the UK.

Mr Trump has repeatedly denied accusations of racism levelled against him but railed against what he describes as “political correctness.”

The London Mayor said earlier this week: “(Donald Trump is) a racist. He’s a sexist. He’s a homophobe. And it’s very important, particularly when you’ve got a special relationship, that you treat them as a best mate.

“If my best mate was a racist, or a sexist or a homophobe, I’d call him out and I’d explain to him why those views are wrong.”

Mr Lammy also indicated that Labour would not pursue a trade deal with the US unless the White House changed its position because “it feels pretty clear to me that America has set its face against trade deals”.

“That’s not particular to the United Kingdom, but the political establishment, both Democrat and Republican, is not focused on trade deals at the moment and therefore I think unless that changes we would be expending a lot of effort unnecessarily,” he said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mr Lammy made a series of pledges aimed at putting expertise at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy agenda.

He promised that Labour would establish a “college of diplomacy”, teaching courses in areas such as languages and artificial intelligence (AI) which would be open to all of Whitehall as well as foreign mandarins “from friendly countries” as part of a Foreign Office shake-up.

The college, which would replace the Diplomatic Academy, would seek to set the “global gold standard” for both diplomacy and development, Mr Lammy said.

Leading figures from the arts, culture and academia would also be brought together as part of a new “soft power council”, he told the event.

The council would work alongside the British Council and BBC World Service to advance the UK’s national interests, he said.

Mr Lammy said: “At present neither the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) nor the National Security Council is delivering the sharp, coherent international strategy which the country urgently needs.

“Without such strategy, we should expect to be buffeted by the tides of superpower competition, not only between the United States and China, but also by the many rising powers who are threatening our competitive advantages economically and militarily.”

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