James Cleverly: The UK’s dictatorships man

The foreign secretary claims his role is ‘defending democracy and freedom’ around the world. In fact, he’s Whitehall’s point man for backing several of the world’s most repressive regimes, as his own tweets show.

16 May 2023

James Cleverly. (Photo: Kirsty O'Connor / UK Treasury)

When James Cleverly was reappointed foreign secretary last October, he tweeted he was “honoured” to be “continuing to protect UK interests overseas and support to our friends and allies around the world, defending democracy and freedom”.

What he’s been doing tells a different story.

Two days after tweeting of his pursuit of democracy, he was deepening the UK’s “partnership” with the feudal family regime in Saudi Arabia, the opposite of a democratic state.

The following month he was supporting the dictatorship of Bahrain, one of the most vicious regimes in the Gulf.

He also found time to deepen UK relations with the family regime in Kuwait, in power since 1752.

The month after that it was Uzbekistan, whose repressive human rights record has been worsening.

Cleverly was from February 2020 a foreign minister, before being promoted to foreign secretary by the hapless Liz Truss in September 2022. Here he is in increasingly repressive Jordan reaffirming “our strong bilateral relationship”.

A few months later he was in the dictatorship of Oman, where all power rests with the Sultan, on an “excellent visit”.

The same month, October 2021, he was in Egypt, ruled by a regime that seized power in bloodshed and is undergoing its worst-ever human rights crisis.

The following month he went to “build the UK-Qatar partnership”, another decidedly undemocratic regime ruled by the same family since 1847.

This was followed in early 2022 by a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to pursue an “ambitious” agenda with a regime where political parties and free media are banned.

And in March this year he deepened UK relations with Israel, which remains illegally and abusively occupying Palestinian territories.

If this is promoting freedom and democracy, I’d hate to know what outright UK support for the world’s worst regimes would look like.