UK's Cleverly promotes Global Britain with a tilt to the Indo-Pacific

'It is a part of the world which is growing fast and through trade agreements, we are shrinking the distance between us'

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks during the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham. EPA
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British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Tuesday set out his vision of Global Britain and called on the UK to see through its support for Ukraine, lauding the bravery of the country as it resists the Russian invasion.

He told Conservative Party members that the UK would support Ukraine until the last Russian tank was towed away by tractor.

"[Their] bravery and passion has been amplified by the arms and the training that the UK has supplied and we will support them, and until this war is won, we will support them until their territorial integrity is restored," he said.

The UK foreign secretary told party members that, ever since his first days on the job, the Indo-Pacific has been a big focus of his diplomacy.

"The Indo-Pacific is a part of the world which is growing fast through trade agreements, co-operation agreements and our Asean dialogue partner status," he said. "We are shrinking the distance between us."

Addressing the Conservative Party critics of foreign aid, he said development spending was the right thing to do and added it was in the UK's interest to have more co-operation with Europe.

There was awkward laughter as Mr Cleverly took the podium when a stream of people left the auditorium following Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s speech.

“A little bit of reshuffling going on there,” he said, as people got up and left from the front row of seats, where Prime Minister Liz Truss sat smiling.

Her smile became more forced as Mr Cleverly reminded the Conservative Party conference that she was there in place of Boris Johnson who had won an 80-seat majority, “got Brexit done” and “led the world on Ukraine”.

He declared that, as foreign secretary, “I’m the UK’s sales guy”. Again there was muted laughter.

The post of foreign secretary is regarded as one of the highest offices of state.

“The greatest salesperson was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” he added. “Our greatest diplomat.”

Despite Mr Johnson’s departure, Britain will remain resolute in its support of Ukraine, Mr Cleverly declared.

“We will continue to support them until the last Russian tank is dragged away by a Ukrainian tractor,” he said to genuine applause.

To even greater applause and a partial standing ovation, he vowed Britain would never recognise the annexation of the four Ukrainian territories that Russia claimed earlier this week.

He added that the UK government was ready to join any western response should nuclear weapons be used on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Pointing to what he saw as Russian President Vladimir Putin's sequence of strategic errors, Mr Cleverly said that any use of nuclear weapons would lead to consequences.

"We need to make it very clear that his sequence of strategic errors has got to stop," he said on a panel.

"We will continue to support Ukrainians in the defence of their homeland and stand up for the international rules and norms."

In recent weeks, Russia ordered a partial military mobilisation and warned of using "all means we have" in the conflict - which many interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons.

Asked how Britain would respond to the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, Mr Cleverly told the Conservative Party conference that he could not go into detail but there would be a response.

"It would inevitably be the case that the use of nuclear weapons by any country anywhere in the world would not go without a response," he said. "I'm not going to discuss the nature or the threshold."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow did not want to take part in "nuclear rhetoric" spread by the West, while Mr Cleverly said the country had been left increasingly isolated globally.

One effect of the conflict has been a scramble to find new ways of bridging differences between European nations, with London seeking new opportunities for a reset in ties with Paris.

“I have no doubt that we will find ways of working brilliantly closely with France, and I have no doubt we’ll find ways of having blazing rows with France, because that’s what the Brits and the French do, it’s our thing,” observed Mr Cleverly.

Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s European Political Community, Mr Cleverly said he agreed with “recognising there is more to Europe than the EU”.

“I think having European countries finding ways to work together, whether on mutual security, economic security etc, etc, that’s certainly something we’ll go into with open eyes," he said.

“We want to find ways of working well with our neighbours and partners and friends in Europe, and we’re willing to explore what this can do and how it can add value to our relationships.”

Ms Truss’s move to attend the meeting in Prague in the Czech Republic, which comes after days of weighing up whether to go, will raise eyebrows given her explicit scepticism about the project only a few months ago as Mr Cleverly’s predecessor at the Foreign Office.

Mr Cleverly said it had struck him how much the international community has pulled together since Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the Russian president has failed in his aim to fracture the allies’ relations.

He said Russia’s veto on the UN Security Council is “problematic”, but that it still serves an “important function” as it “allows the world to see that they are isolated”.

Updated: October 05, 2022, 3:30 AM