Starmer says new Lords retirement age of 80 ‘shouldn’t reflect’ on Biden ahead of first meeting with US president

10 July 2024, 12:49 | Updated: 10 July 2024, 14:37

Starmer has said his age restrictions for the Lords should not reflect on Joe Biden
Starmer has said his age restrictions for the Lords should not reflect on Joe Biden. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Britain has a “very special relationship” with America and rules for a new retirement age shouldn’t apply to Joe Biden, Keir Starmer has said.

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Ahead of the Prime Minister’s first face-to-face meeting with the US President later today, he insisted that he wants to follow up what is a very close defence and security partnership.

But he dismissed talk that his retirement age for the House of Lords of 80 would make Joe Biden unsuitable for office in the US.

He said Britain and the US were partners for both making big contributions to NATO and in Europe – and he hoped to discuss taking this work forward as they meet later on.

Sir Keir and Victoria Starmer will both attend a White House dinner with Mr Biden and his wife Jill on Wednesday evening.

And the PM will have his first one on one talks with the President too.

Read more: Keir Starmer urges NATO to ‘unite’ to 'Trump-proof Ukraine aid' ahead of US election

Read more: Keir Starmer arrives at NATO summit, as Tories demand to know when government will boost defence spending

Follow the NATO summit with LBC
Follow the NATO summit with LBC. Picture: LBC

Sir Keir is in Washington for the 75th anniversary NATO summit – his first international trip in office.

He said ahead of the trip:

  • Britain will hike spending to 2.5% of GDP on defence – but wouldn’t give a timeframe to do it – sparking a backlash from Conservatives
  • He will kick back the decision until after a new defence and security review looks at threat to the nation and where savings may be made
  • Senior members of David Lammy’s team will meet with Donald Trump allies as they prepare for a possible change in the White House later this year
  • Talks to beef up the UK's relationship with Europe will also take place with Europe minister Nick Thomas Symmonds on the sidelines of the Washington summit
  • Sir Keir condemned the “appalling” attack on a children’s hospital in Ukraine – but said it wasn’t up to him whether to call it a war crime
  • He urged nations to “show unity” in NATO and Ukraine cash ahead of the US election later this year in a message to Donald Trump who has expressed doubt over continued spending
  • A fresh package of UK aid for Ukraine is expected later this week

Starmer says review needed to set timeline to reach 2.5% defence spending

Sir Keir told reporters ahead of the meeting with the US president: “I’ve already had a phone call with President Biden. I want to follow up on that, this is obviously a very special relationship we have between the UK and the US.

“We have, within that, a special aspect when it comes to defence and security for obvious reasons including our commitment to NATO.

“We make a unique contribution in Europe to NATO and therefore it’s a very good opportunity for me to talk to the President about how we take forward the important work at this summit.”

But the PM slapped down suggestions that his plans to curb the House of Lords with a new retirement age should apply to the US.

Labour plan to curb the size of the UK's bloated second chamber by enforcing a retirement age of 80.

American defence expert: 'We don't have time to lose'

Mr Biden, who is running again for the White House in November, is already 81.

Sir Keir said when asked about whether he would like to see that applied in other nations, said: “In terms of the age in the House of Lords, the simple fact is that our House of Lords is massive. It’s the second biggest political chamber in the world.

“I think it’s only the Chinese who have a bigger political chamber than our House of Lords - we have to reduce it.

“That is the primary driver of the retirement at 80. You can see why that needs to be done. We’ve got 800-plus members of the House of Lords, it’s simply too big. We need to reduce it.

“So it doesn’t reflect on how other elected representatives are chosen in other countries, it’s to do with the size of the House of Lords.”

Accompanying him on the trip is Europe minister Nick Thomas Symonds. The PM hopes Mr Thomas Symonds will have constructive talks about beefing up our defence partnership.

Britain's Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria board a plane
Britain's Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria board a plane. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir insisted that the timing of the election ahead of international summits like NATO and the European Political Community meeting which will be hosted at Blenheim Palace later this month, would be useful to build relationships to secure a better Brexit deal.

He said ahead of the summit: “On the defence and security pact this is really important to us. I do think there is scope for a significant improving of our defence and security relationship with the EU.

“I think this is complementary with NATO.

“NATO is still the cornerstone of defence in Europe and our approach on defence has always been Nato first.

“I do see scope for complementing that. That is why we are wanting to advance the defence and security pact or agreement with the EU.

“Because of the timing of the election, which was much discussed for other reasons, it has provided a really important window of opportunity for me and my team, because we’ve got the NATO summit within a week of the election, so we get the opportunity to strengthen our relations with various of the Nato leaders and others obviously that are there, including EU leaders.

“And then of course we’ve got the European Political Community coming up at the tail end of next week, so that’s why I wanted Nick and David and John and me – I want to make sure we take full advantage of this opportunity.

“These are meetings that would probably take months and months and months for us to fit in as a team, if we were not taking advantage of this summit for the purposes of those relations and the EPC.

“The central purpose is obviously all about Nato but it is a very important opportunity to strengthen those relations.”

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