Trump’s views on Europe ‘misunderstood’, says Lammy

The shadow foreign secretary said all US leaders wanted European nations to spend more on their own defence.

The shadow foreign secretary was speaking on a visit to Washington
The shadow foreign secretary was speaking on a visit to Washington (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Donald Trump’s approach to Nato is “misunderstood”, David Lammy said as he promised a Labour government would work with the Republican if he returned to the White House.

On a visit to Washington, the shadow foreign secretary was meeting senior Democrats and Republicans as part of Labour’s efforts to build ties with the US ahead of the general election.

With the potential for Mr Trump to win this year’s presidential election, Mr Lammy acknowledged the Republican candidate’s concerns about European defence spending.

He suggested that Labour may be able to reach the goal of spending 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence quicker than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to do so by 2030.

During his first term in office, Mr Trump flirted with the idea of leaving the Nato alliance and repeatedly pushed for European nations to increase their own spending.

Earlier this year, he suggested a US under his leadership would not defend Nato allies who failed to meet the target of spending 2% of GDP – a measure of the size of the economy – on defence.

Mr Lammy described Mr Trump as “racist” and a “Nazi sympathiser” in 2017, saying he would protest on the streets if the then-president visited the UK.

David Lammy acknowledged Donald Trump’s concerns about European defence spending
David Lammy acknowledged Donald Trump’s concerns about European defence spending (Niall Carson/PA)

“You are going to struggle to find any politician in the western world who hasn’t had things to say in response to Donald Trump,” Mr Lammy said.

But he said that if he became foreign secretary, he would put the UK national interest first and “where I can find common cause with Donald Trump, I will find common cause”.

In a speech at the Hudson Institute think tank, Mr Lammy said the former president was “a leader whose attitude to European security is often misunderstood”.

“I do not believe that he is arguing that the United States should abandon Europe,” Mr Lammy said.

“He wants Europeans to do more to ensure a better-defended Europe.

“Were his words in office a little shocking? Yes, they were.

“Would I have used them? Probably not.

“But US spending on defence actually grew under President Trump, as did the defence spending of the wider alliance during his tenure.”

Only four European countries were meeting the 2% goal in 2016 when Mr Trump was campaigning for the presidency, it was 10 by the time he left office in 2021, Mr Lammy said, and was set to be 18 this year.

Mr Lammy said: “I tell my European friends: don’t personalise this. ‘Do more’ is the American ask whoever wins.

“This is not because of a weakening of the transatlantic bond but because of the geopolitical reality in the Indo-Pacific.”

It was inevitable that the rise of China would lead to a greater US focus there, rather than Europe, he said.

That meant “the European continent must do more to look after our own back yard”.

He added: “Britain will always work with the United States. Whatever the weather, whoever wins.

“If Keir Starmer’s Labour Party wins the privilege to serve, we will continue to do the same.”

Mr Lammy restated Labour’s commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP “as soon as we can, in a responsible way”.

The shadow foreign secretary said Labour would have a defence review beginning on “day one” of a new administration and “we may get to 2.5% before 2030” if the public finances allow.

During his time in Washington, Mr Lammy was expected to meet senior White House officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, the national security council co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

On Capitol Hill, he was due to meet with Democrats including senators Amy Klobuchar, Christopher Murphy and Chris Coons.

But in a sign of Labour trying to build relationships with the party which could be in power in the US if Sir Keir Starmer wins the UK’s election, he was also due to have talks with Republican senators Lindsey Graham and JD Vance, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Turner and former Trump administration defence and security officials Elbridge Colby and Fred Fleitz.