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Labour signals closer UK-EU trade ties as Sunak returns to campaign trail

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will start a week of campaigning on the economy (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will start a week of campaigning on the economy (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Rachel Reeves has said she will seek closer trade ties with the EU and more foreign investment as she kicks off an economy-focused week, while Rishi Sunak is returning to the campaign trail after a few days’ hiatus.

Labour’s shadow chancellor has suggested she could revise parts of Boris Johnson’s 2020 Brexit deal, including seeking closer alignment with EU rules in the chemicals and veterinary sectors, better touring rights for UK artists, and greater mutual recognition of qualifications for financial services workers.

She said this was not an “exclusive” list, telling the Financial Times: “We would look to improve our trading relationship with Europe.

“I don’t think anyone voted Leave because they were not happy that chemicals regulations were the same across Europe.”

Her remarks appear to suggest that Labour would go further than previously thought in pushing for improved trade terms with the bloc, having so far been hesitant to discuss Brexit during the General Election campaign.

The Labour frontbencher also pledged to “hit the ground running to show that Britain is open for business” by holding a global investment summit in the first 100 days of entering government.

She will host members of her British infrastructure council on Monday morning to discuss attracting foreign investors who had been put off by political instability in the UK.

Ms Reeves is later expected to make a campaign visit with Sir Keir Starmer to promote their plan to set up a national wealth fund.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and deputy leader Angela Rayner
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will start a week of campaigning on the economy (Lucy North/PA)

The party has pledged to invest £7.3 billion in the fund over the course of the next parliament if it wins the General Election to help create 650,000 new jobs.

“The next Labour government will work hand-in-hand with the private sector to bring investment to Britain’s industrial heartlands and I have been clear that our national wealth fund will be a crucial tool in the armoury to deliver on this ambition,” Ms Reeves said.

As Labour and the Tories continue to trade blows on tax and spending, Mr Sunak criticised Labour’s pledges as a “con”.

It came after shadow health secretary Wes Streeting on Sunday said Labour’s manifesto is not the “sum total” of what it will do in government.

The Prime Minister told the Express: “At this election Keir Starmer is asking for you and your family to sign a blank cheque, and we all know what he wants to do with it: put up your taxes so he can run riot with your money.”

Labour’s energy policy also came in for attack, with Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho warning it would be a “triple whammy” for the UK.

She said Labour’s ban on new oil and gas licences could lead to an estimated £4.5 billion in lost tax revenues over the next 10 years and risk tens of thousands of jobs, though Sir Keir’s party dismissed this as “more desperate nonsense” from their rivals.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is returning to the campaign trail on Monday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The beleaguered Prime Minister is heading to East Yorkshire, the East Midlands and East of England on Monday after a pause in campaigning for his prime ministerial duties.

He attended the G7 summit in Italy on Thursday and Friday, followed on Saturday by Trooping the Colour and a major international summit on Ukraine in Switzerland.

Opinion polls continue to show his party crashing to defeat, with one survey published during his absence showing Reform UK edging ahead of the Conservatives for the first time.

Although it was within the margin of error and other surveys since then have showed Nigel Farage’s outfit trailing the Conservatives, it came as a major blow to the Tories and preceded warnings by other pollsters of “electoral extinction” for the party.

Penny Mordaunt insisted the election result is “not a foregone conclusion”, but conceded her party is now “the underdog”.

The Commons Leader, seen as a potential successor to Mr Sunak as Tory leader, although she is projected to lose her Portsmouth North seat, also told the Independent “we need to go further on those tax cuts”.

Mr Farage is set to unveil Reform UK’s manifesto, which the party dubs a “contract” with voters, in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales on Monday.

The party leader said he is “launching a crusade to defend British values” and that the location was chosen “because it shows everyone exactly what happens to a country when Labour is in charge”.

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats have proposed an expansion of fuel duty relief for rural motorists to 20 new areas – including Devon, Cumbria and Shropshire – funded by an additional £7 million a year.

Leader Sir Ed Davey, who is set to tout the plan during a campaign visit, said it would be “a real rescue plan to support rural communities struggling with outrageous pump prices”.

North of the border, First Minister John Swinney is expected to say that the SNP is the only major party with a “truly left-of-centre manifesto” ahead of the policy document’s launch this week.

The Scottish Lib Dems are promising to “lift up Scottish education” as they pitch their offering on Monday, and Scottish Labour’s election battle bus will set off on its campaign tour.