Cleverly praises Trump's foreign record and his 'surprisingly effective' style

By John Mercury September 30, 2023

The foreign secretary has praised Donald Trump’s record in foreign affairs as the former president remains the frontrunner for the republican nomination for president in the 2024 election.

Ahead of the Conservative Party conference, which kicks off in Manchester on Sunday, James Cleverly has said that Mr Trump’s “particular rhetorical style” was “surprisingly effective” while in the White House from 2017-2021.

In an interview with The House Magazine, Mr Cleverly, who has served as foreign secretary for just over a year, was asked whether a Trump victory in next year’s presidential election would be good for international efforts for Ukraine, and he was initially reserved: “The US is a mature democracy. It wouldn’t be right for me to pass comment on who they choose to be their national leader.”

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The foreign secretary was then asked what he makes of Mr Trump’s claim that he could broker a deal between presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Vladimir Putin within 24 hours.

Mr Cleverly – who has never met the former president – reportedly chuckled at the question and replied: “I’m very conscious that Donald Trump has got a particular rhetorical style and when he was president, he did some very surprising and positive things with regard to international relations.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

He cited the Abraham Accords, which was a deal that established diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries for the first time, as an example of where Mr Trump was successful.

“We have got to recognise that sometimes his particular style can be surprisingly effective,” he said.

There were other times Mr Trump was less successful, of course, such as the lack of progress in peace negotiations on the Korean peninsula, despite becoming the first US sitting president to meet a North Korean leader and the first since the Korean War to set foot in the country’s territory.

Asked if Mr Trump were to secure a deal that ensured respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, reinforced the Charter of the United Nations, and saw Russia make amends for what it has inflicted on Ukraine, Mr Cleverly replied: “If all those things can be done in a deal over 24 hours, how would anyone not want that to happen?”

But he added: “From the UK’s point of view, we’re going to stick with what we’ve seen to be effective, which is not a quick or easy result.”

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Donald Trump says he does not think about going to jail over election interference charges.

Elsewhere in the interview, the foreign secretary also addressed Canada’s accusation that agents of the Indian government were responsible for the murder of Sikh separatist campaigner Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil.

The UK is in the midst of negotiating a trade deal with India that was promised by Diwali last year, but that has still not been struck despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit earlier this month.

Mr Cleverly would not go into detail on whether he has warned India against targeting British citizens but said the UK has “sensitive, difficult conversations” with India, and added: “We have a duty to protect the citizens of this country and people living here and we take that incredibly seriously. That is an absolute.”

He said he remains hopeful for a trade deal, saying “we have been making fantastic ground” and “very good progress”.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng shake hands before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China August 30, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Pool
James Cleverly and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng met at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing a few days ago

The foreign secretary also addressed the controversy over the government’s stance on China after the arrest of an alleged Chinese spy working in parliament (the man concerned categorically denies the allegations).

He said the UK’s approach when engaging with China was “wide open”, and defended extending an invitation for representatives to attend the artificial intelligence (AI) summit in November, saying Britain is being “cautious but thoughtful”.

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Not inviting “one of the world’s largest AI players”, he said, would be “setting ourselves up for a severely suboptimal outcome”.

“It would immediately mean there’s a gap in our thinking, there’s a gap in our defences,” he said.

He went on: “The conversation we’re having with China is, if you don’t get this right, this is bad news for you. And if you are closed, and if you are not willing to be open about your intention and that kind of stuff, you are importing risk.”


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