In May 2023, UK foreign secretary James Cleverly travelled to Latin America and the Caribbean in an effort to rekindle Britain’s historically close relations with the region.
Cleverly visited Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Jamaica, with the issue of climate breakdown high on the agenda.
In Chile, Cleverly declared that: “Climate change is the most urgent and obvious example” of the “rapidly increasing transnational threats” facing the world.
At the UK-Caribbean Forum in Kingston, Jamaica, the foreign secretary announced additional funding for the region’s “security and climate resilience”. In Brazil, Cleverly signed “a wide-ranging climate partnership” on “Green and Inclusive Growth”.
A ‘Succession-style jet’
Newly released Foreign Office data shows that Cleverly spent over £420,000 in public money on travel during his one-week trip to the region.
The money corresponds to the Foreign Office’s chartering of the Embraer Lineage 1000E – a “Succession-style” jet which is frequently used by billionaires and pop stars.
The jet “includes a lounge area with big-screen TV and a master suite for its main VIP, complete with a queen-size bed, private bathroom and shower”, and was used to accommodate Cleverly and 18 members of his staff.
“The jet includes a lounge area with big-screen TV and a master suite for its main VIP”
Cleverly’s chartering of one of the world’s most luxurious private jets casts doubt on the government’s commitment to tackling climate breakdown, at a time when funds are being cut from public services across the UK.
In May 2023, Declassified UK made a freedom of information request regarding Cleverly’s travel costs in Latin America, which was refused by the Foreign Office. It justified this on the grounds that the data was due to be published at a later date.
When Boris Johnson visited Latin America as foreign secretary in 2018, associated travel costs came to just £5,209.
This is not the first time the UK government has been accused of using excessive amounts of public money on travel expenses.
Another freedom of information request found that, between 2021 and 2022, foreign secretaries Dominic Raab, Liz Truss, and Cleverly “chartered private jets or used one of the government’s fleet of ministerial planes to travel overseas, at a combined total cost of £4.6m”.
Recently published Cabinet Office data also shows that prime minister Rishi Sunak spent £650,271 on private and RAF jet hire over a period of just three months.
In response to earlier concerns about Cleverly’s use of public funds for chartering private jets, the Foreign Office said: “The foreign secretary’s job requires him to travel abroad to pursue UK interests… Value for money is taken into account in all travel decisions and costs are regularly published for transparency.”