Starmer seeks 'reset' with UK nations after election victory

Britain's Prime Minister Keir Starmer holds a press conference at the end of his Cabinet's first meeting in Downing Street in London on Jul 6, 2024.

(Photo credit: AFP/Pool/Claudia Greco)

Source: Channel News Asia

Newly elected Prime Minister Keir Starmer on Sunday (Jul 7) began a whistlestop tour of UK nations, promising an "immediate reset" of relations with the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Starmer was due to meet Scotland's First Minister and leader of the pro-separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) John Swinney in Edinburgh ahead of trips to Cardiff and Belfast expected on Monday.

The meeting comes as the SNP was almost wiped out at last week's election which put Starmer's Labour Party in power by a landslide.

Labour, which crushed Rishi Sunak's ruling Conservatives at the polls, also overturned more than a decade of SNP domination in Scotland by capturing the majority of its 57 seats.

Swinney lamented a "very, very difficult and damaging" election result for his party.

He had set the party's sights on winning 29 seats as a mandate for reopening negotiations with the British government for another independence referendum, but it returned only nine MPs.


Under ex-premier Tony Blair, Labour was the architect of devolving power to the regions in the late 1990s with the setting up of parliaments or national assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

But under the Conservatives leaders in the three capitals complained that they were increasingly sidelined.

Starmer said disagreement could be turned into cooperation "and a genuine seat at the table" to deliver the UK-wide change he has promised.

"That begins today with an immediate reset of my government's approach to working with the first and deputy first ministers, because meaningful cooperation centred on respect will be key to delivering change across our United Kingdom."

The devolved administrations have the power to set policy in a range of areas such as education and housing.

Responsibility for policy on matters such as national defence, international relations and the monarchy, however, are the sole preserve of the UK-wide Westminster parliament in London.


Swinney said he was looking forward to discussions on shared priorities.

Those included "eradicating child poverty, growing the economy, prioritising net zero, and ensuring effective public services", he said in a statement.

The SNP has dominated in Scotland in the last three UK elections, peaking with the 2015 vote when it won 56 out of 59 seats.

But the party has been in turmoil for months as voters tire of its 17 years in charge of the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.

Critics accuse it of focusing on independence at the expense of key issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, education and health.

Support for the SNP has also slumped amid the party finances scandal that saw former SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, charged with embezzlement. Murrell is the party's former chief executive.

Sturgeon herself was arrested, but released without charge.


Starmer will make his debut on the international stage as leader when he flies to Washington next week for a NATO summit.

Foreign Minister David Lammy meanwhile travelled to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock, in his first in-post trip.

The ministers discussed issues from boosting NATO's support for Ukraine to the situation in the Middle East, the German foreign ministry wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The United Kingdom is an indispensable part of Europe," the ministry wrote, adding that Germany is "working with the new UK government to see how the UK can move closer to the EU".

Earlier Sunday, as Starmer began his second full day at the helm, former three-time Labour prime minister Blair made an early intervention, urging him to have a "plan to control immigration".

Blair warned Starmer that the anti-immigration Reform UK Party also posed a challenge to Labour, not just the Conservative Party.

"We need a plan to control immigration. If we don't have rules, we get prejudices," Blair wrote in the Sunday Times, advocating the introduction of digital ID.

Business Minister Jonathan Reynolds later ruled the idea out.