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Britain's Labour leader Keir Starmer visits Estonia, warns against 'going soft' on Putin

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Britain's opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer (left) with shadow defense secretary John Healey in Tallinn.
Britain's opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer (left) with shadow defense secretary John Healey in Tallinn. Source: SCANPIX/PA/Stefan Rousseau

"Going soft" on Russian leader Vladimir Putin is to be avoided, given that Russia still poses a "direct threat" to the United Kingdom, the leader of that country's largest opposition party says, as reported by The Times.

Sir Keir Starmer, who has been leader of the Labour Party since April 2020 and is forecast by many to be Britain's prime minister-in-waiting, is in Estonia this week, when he will thank armed forces based in the country.

Starmer is accompanied on his visit by John Healey, shadow defense minister, who also pledged his party's support for Estonia, other NATO allies, and for Ukraine.

While a Christmas visit from high-level British politicians to U.K. troops based in Estonia has become something of a tradition – Andrew Murrison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defense People, Veterans and Service Families, was at Tapa earlier in the month – Starmer's trip is likely to also be aimed at assuaging fears that a change in government after next year's planned general election in Britain would lead to a change in priorities on Ukraine and on NATO.

This is not Keir Starmer's first visit to Estonia, having been on an official visit in March 2022.

Defense ministry spokesperson: Starmer met with Pevkur, Salm and visiting Tapa

Of Starmer's itinerary for this trip, Estonian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Roland Muroff told ERR Thursday that: "We can confirm that Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur and [Ministry] Secretary General Kusti Salm took part an informal meeting with the leader of Britain's Keir Starmer, as well as visiting the Tapa military base."

A planned meeting with interior minister and Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Lauri Läänemeets is not materializing, however, due to scheduling matters, the latter's advisor, Vootele Päi, told ERR.

SDE are closely associated with Labour in ideological terms; the pair had met in 2022, while the two parties continue to communicate on various matters.

Päi said that border security, illegal migration, economic security and the role of the state in supporting businesses were among the main talking points and this had not changed post-Brexit.

Keir Starmer, broadly speaking a Labour moderate, has been a consistent critic of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, from the party's hard left, including on defense issues.

Corbyn had not, for instance, directly condemned the 2019 Novichok attack in the cathedral city of Salisbury, carried out by Russian agents and aimed at a Russian dissident residing in the town.

The leader of the largest opposition party by seats won at the House of Commons is designated opposition leader and designates shadow cabinet ministers, who are supposed to mirror, and hold to account, their governmental counterparts. In practice and within living memory, Labour and the Conservative Party have traded places in these roles.

The current British Defense Secretary is Grant Shapps.

He is a former barrister working in human rights law and former director of public prosecutions, the third-highest ranking public prosecutor in the land. Despite having in the past held anti-monarchist views, Starmer was knighted in 2014.

His current visit to Estonia, The Times reports, takes place at a time when Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking Britain to commit to a further £2.3 billion (around €2.7 billion) for 2024, though both Starmer and sitting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have declined to comment on this.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: The Times

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