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Boris Johnson’s closest rival had called for a “British by default” clause that would force ministers to show equipment such as naval ships, warplanes and drones cannot be produced in the UK before it is ordered from overseas. During a visit to Plymouth on Wednesday, where hundreds of people work on dockyards, the Labour leader attempted to highlight contracts to buy billions of pounds worth of spy planes from overseas.
Sir Keir pointed to a £3billion deal with US giant Boeing to build the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft based on the manufacturer’s best-selling 737 model, which hunts Russian submarines in the North Sea.
On Wednesday morning, the Labour leader tweeted: “I’m in Plymouth meeting people whose jobs rely on the defence supply chain.
“We can protect their jobs and create more by adopting a ‘Buy British’ approach in defence spending.
“Let’s invest in jobs, communities, and secure our economy.”
Brexit news: Keir Starmer has been humiliated over his ‘Buy British’ plea
Brexit news: Keir Starmer said the UK must adopt a ‘Buy British’ approach in defence spending
Later in the day, Sir Keir tweeted a series of pictures during a visit to the Davenport dockyard in Plymouth, where he met staff and shared a picture of taking part in some bricklaying.
He wrote on Twitter: “We must protect jobs here at Devonport dockyard in Plymouth and create more across the country by adopting a ‘Buy British’ approach in defence spending.
“Let’s give our economy a major boost by securing shipbuilding, steel, and wider manufacturing jobs at home.”
But Sir Keir also came under attack from Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen, who accused him of “hypocrisy” after announcing his party’s “British-built by default” policy on defence procurement.
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Under the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, then Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir, who was a prominent Remainer, continued to argue for “customs union and single market alignment” with Europe.
Mr Bridgen told Express.co.uk: “This is the height of hypocrisy from Mr Starmer.
“He spent years preaching to everyone that we must stay part of the EU single market and follow its rules, rules which would make his announcement today illegal.
“It seems there is no issue that the Labour leader won’t flip-flop on for a quick headline.”
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But Sir Keir has faced a brutal backlash on Twitter over his pledge for Labour Party’s approach to ‘Buy British’ on defence spending.
One furious person responded: “I thought ‘Buy British’ was meant as a slogan for things like strawberries and milk.
“Not weapons that will be used to slaughter innocent people abroad.”
A second Twitter user replied: “Keir can’t even get the innocuous ‘Buy British’ thing right.
“Encouraging people to buy local produce is supposed to be about things like strawberries and spinach not ‘British bombs’.”
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Another person said: “I thought I was safe with buy British, but nope it’s labour going all in to create more war machines to kill people in far off lands!
“I’m so infuriated, how do we have elected officials that have such little regards for the life of others!?”
A fourth Twitter user commented: “So, so many things that Labour could be speaking out about right now.
“Keir Starmer: Buy British Bombs.”
Labour’s ‘Buy British’ campaign has also been backed by Shadow Defence Secretary John Healy, who said: “Of course, there will be essential equipment or systems which makes strategic sense for Britain to develop with allies or to buy direct from overseas, but we want to see a much higher bar for this.
“When done well, defence spending has a multiplier effect, strengthening our UK economy. Covid has exposed the risks of relying on foreign supply chains. Labour’s ‘British by default’ policy would strengthen the UK’s sovereignty and security.”
An MoD spokeswoman said: “Our new Defence and Security Industrial Strategy will ensure home-grown skills and enterprise are fully harnessed as we move away from global competition by default and lean towards British built to boost manufacturing within the UK supply chain.
“Combined with a commitment to spend £85 billion on equipment over the next four years, defence will generate and sustain thousands of highly skilled jobs, driving prosperity throughout the country.”