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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Labour Party Vows Fresh Start With EU

LONDON -- Britain's new Labour government pledged a fresh start with the European Union on Monday as it moved to join the Social Chapter on worker rights so reviled by its Conservative predecessors.


"We want to draw a line under the fruitless, sterile confrontation of the past," Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told BBC radio. "We are confident that we are going to get a better deal for Britain if we work together with other European states rather than fighting them as enemies."


Cook spoke as Labour's new Europe minister, Doug Henderson, flew to Brussels to begin the process of joining the Social Chapter. It was to be Labour's first EU meeting since it was elected by a landslide last Thursday, signalling the high priority it places on better relations with the 15-nation bloc.


The Social Chapter was set up to regulate working conditions in the EU but met with fierce criticism from the previous Conservative government, which said it would cost 500,000 jobs.


Insisting Britons should enjoy the same rights as their EU counterparts, Cook said there was nothing to fear in the Social Chapter. Many big companies already followed its guidelines.


"We are doing it because it is good for Britain and because we are committed to achieving a skilled, flexible workforce. And the key to a competitive Britain is to make sure we have that committed workforce," Cook said.


Some voices in business remain skeptical.


Adair Turner, head of the influential Confederation of British Industry, urged Britain not to ape the "mistaken" labor policies of some EU members and thereby damage job creation.


But Lord Howe, a former Conservative foreign minister and leading pro-European in his increasingly Euro-skeptic party, welcomed Labour's attempt to patch up relations with Brussels.


"The arrival of new people with a new tone of voice will make it easier to sell good British points, which ought to be sold well," he told BBC radio.


That is exactly Labour's point. The incoming government is keen to show the EU a friendlier face than the Conservatives and says it is easier to chalk up victories through negotiation than via confrontation.


Ministers, rather than civil servants, would attend all talks on EU integration though Labour, like the Conservatives, has expressed doubt about Britain joining up to the planned single currency in the first membership wave of 1999.


But in a further signal of Britain's resolve to improve relations -- and improve them quickly -- a Dutch spokesman said Prime Minister Wim Kok would travel to London on Friday for talks with his newly elected British counterpart Tony Blair.


Talks would focus on EU matters ahead of a key summit to be held in Amsterdam in June.