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David Lammy: Friend of Obama now UK foreign minister

By AFP - Jul 07,2024 - Last updated at Jul 07,2024

LONDON — Britain’s new Foreign Minister David Lammy, appointed on Friday, is a trailblazing black lawmaker descended from slaves who calls former US president Barack Obama a friend.

Lammy has also made the odd outspoken comment, including about US ex-president Donald Trump, meaning he could be in for a bumpy ride as the UK’s top diplomat.

The 51-year-old’s ancestors were enslaved in Guyana, South America — a family history that Lammy says will inform his approach to foreign policy.

“I will take the responsibility of being the first foreign secretary descended from the slave trade incredibly seriously,” he said in a recent speech.

Lammy has been Labour’s international affairs spokesman for over two years and by his own count has made more than 40 foreign visits during that time.

Along the way he has sharpened his vision for UK diplomacy — a model that he calls “progressive realism”.

It combines the fact-based approach of arguably Labour’s most famous foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, with the ethical idealism of Robin Cook in the late 1990s.

Bevin helped establish NATO after World War II and pushed for Britain to acquire nuclear weapons, while Cook oversaw successful interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone before resigning from Tony Blair’s Cabinet over the invasion of Iraq.

“Taking the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be... but believing that we can get Britain its future back while delivering for the wider world,” Lammy has said.

He argues that British diplomacy “needs to rediscover the art of grand strategy” following the country’s bitter exit from the European Union.

Lammy favours closer cooperation with the EU, continued backing for Ukraine, and a Palestinian state when the conditions for peace in the Middle East allow.

Born in London in 1972 to Guyanese immigrants, Lammy’s childhood was shaped by his father walking out on his mother and their five children when he was 12.

“I never saw him again. I have always felt that hole in my life — and I am not alone,” Lammy wrote in The Guardian in 2013, one of several articles he has penned about the importance of fathers being active in children’s lives.

Lammy grew up in Tottenham, the area of north London that he has represented in parliament since 2000, before gaining a law degree.

In the late 1990s, he became the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School and later befriended Obama during an event for black alumni.

His wife, the artist Nicola Green, chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign in a series of portraits.

Lammy became the youngest member of parliament when he was first elected aged 27 and soon gained ministerial experience, serving in the governments of Blair and Gordon Brown.

He apologised in 2013 after claiming the BBC had made a “silly innuendo about the race” of the next Pope when in fact it had cited the role of black and white smoke in the election ofPpontiffs.

Lammy is a strong Atlanticist — through his time spent in the United States and contacts with the Democratic Party via Obama — and favours maintaining Britain and America’s so-called special relationship.

As Labour repositioned itself from opposition party to government-in-waiting, Lammy had to reassure the Republican Party that he had common cause with it as well.

During a trip to Washington DC in early May, he told the right-wing Hudson Institute think tank that he was a “good Christian boy” and “small C conservative”.

Lammy has also had to offer reassurances that he could work with Trump if the presumptive Republican nominee defeats President Joe Biden in November’s election.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary once called Trump a “woman-hating, neo-Nazi-sympathising sociopath”, but recently described him as “misunderstood”.

“Whoever is in the White House, or Number 10, in a big election year we must work together,” Lammy said, stressing that the relationship is “core not just to our own national security, but the security of much of the world.”

 

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