James Cleverly today outlined his plan for the Foreign Office to be ‘salespeople’ across the world in order to set up new partnerships with nations across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In his first major speech as Foreign Secretary, Mr Cleverly told an audience of international diplomats that Britain could not afford to ‘hang on to the comfort blanket’ of its existing allies.
He insisted his department need to ‘work’ and ‘graft’ to deepen ties with those countries that are ‘growing economically’ and ‘growing influentially’ across the world.
Mr Cleverly said the ‘centre of gravity geopolitically’ was moving ‘eastwards and southwards’, as he highlighted how the median age of Britain’s population was significantly older that those in Brazil, Indonesia and India.
But the Foreign Secretary declined to set out an ‘exhaustive list’ of those countries the UK was seeking to deepen ties with.
He also admitted there would not be ‘swift dividends’ to his approach as he urged the Government to look ’10, 15, 20 or more years ahead’ and show ‘strategic endurance’ in building new alliances.
Mr Cleverly, speaking at the Foreign Office’s Locarno Suite, pushed back at fears Britain would downgrade a commitment to human rights as a prerequisite for close relations with the UK.
He said Britain would not be ‘hectoring’ but act in ‘a persuasive way over decades’ in tackling human rights concerns.
The Foreign Secretary also insisted the UK was a ‘stable’ partner on the international stage, despite the recent ‘froth’ of political turmoil at Westminster.
James Cleverly told an audience of international diplomats that Britain could not afford to ‘hang on to the comfort blanket’ of its existing allies
The Foreign Secretary said the ‘centre of gravity geopolitically’ was moving ‘eastwards and southwards’
Mr Cleverly, speaking at the Foreign Office’s Locarno Suite, pushed back at fears Britain would downgrade a commitment to human rights as a prerequisite for close relations with the UK
Mr Cleverly’s predecessor, Liz Truss, previously outlined efforts to take on China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.
This is aimed at deepening Beijing’s global influence but has been branded ‘debt trap diplomacy’ by critics.
The Foreign Secretary this morning warned against nations being ‘wooed by other philosophies’ as he pushed his vision of new partnerships ‘based on trust, not coercion’ between the UK and developing countries.
He described his plans as an ‘evolution of the long-standing position of the UK’ and insisted he was not attempting ‘to bring about aggressive gear changes or big changes of direction’ in Britain’s foreign policy.
But Mr Cleverly said the UK would ‘curse our complacency’ if it did not make an effort to secure ‘essential’ relationships with growing global powers.
He added that Britain’s diplomats were not ‘pundits in the commentary box, offering their thoughts and analysis’ but were ‘players on the field’.
‘The goal of foreign policy is not to comment but to make a difference,’ he said.
‘Britain has agency Britain has influence, Britain has leverage and it is my job to use it.
‘So I will make a long term and sustained effort to revive old friendships and build new ones, reaching far beyond our long-established alliances.’
Taking questions after his speech, Mr Cleverly denied suggestions the UK had become an unreliable partner due to the political instability of three different prime ministers since the beginning of September.
He said: ‘The UK is a foundation stone nation. We have increadibly robust institutions.
‘You talk about the short-term turmoil we’ve experienced and, of course, that has been broadcast all over the headlines.
‘But when I speak to my interlocutors around the world, one of the things they remark upon – and remark upon incredibly positively – is the stability that they see at the foundation level.
‘So amongst all the froth that is grist to the mill for journalists like yourself, what they see is they see our legal institutions, our political institutions, our business institutions – all these things incredibly robust, predictable and reliable.
‘It’s that predictability and reliability – underpinned by the rule of law, underpinned by a very, very stable political framework – that we offer to the world.’
Mr Cleverly added the UK needed to move beyond ‘our pre-existing friendships and alliances’.
He continued: ‘We need to sell the benefit, we need to be salespeople and sell the benefits… about subscription to international law, about using peaceful mechanisms for dispute resolution, about moving in a direction which embraces human rights and diversity and those things which are foundation stones of our political philosophy.
‘Not necessarily in a hectoring way, but in a persuasive way over decades.
‘Because that is how we bring about change and that’s the difference between being a commentator and being an active player.
‘And the UK at all times should seek to be an active player on the world stage.’
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