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Tory MP Says Foreign Secretary Needs High Visibility In Brussels Post-Brexit

James Cleverly posed for photos with President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola this week (Alamy)

4 min read

Foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns has said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly should have a consistent, visible presence in Brussels in order to develop the UK’s “new” post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

The backbench MP said it was important for Cleverly to visit Brussels regularly in person along with other countries across the world, in order to “protect” the relationship with the bloc, despite the UK having formally severed ties. 

The foreign secretary is in Brussels this week to co-chair a meeting on the Withdrawal Agreement and set out the UK’s priorities for future cooperation with the EU. Kearns welcomed the visit as “good news”, tweeting that she was pleased to see Cleverly engaged with the UK’s European counterparts.

“Cleverly needs to be in the EU having meetings with them, that should have started by now and it hasn’t,” Kearns told PoliticsHome prior to the foreign secretary’s visit this week. 

She said that while the foreign secretary meets with the EU regularly, it is especially important to build the relationship further by taking in-person trips to Brussels at least once a quarter.

“He meets with the EU all the time, he talks to Ursula von der Leyen all the time, but I think it is important for him to be demonstrably going to Brussels for a meeting.

“The same way as [US secretary of state] Antony Blinken goes to Brussels, other world leaders go to Brussels, I think it is important that we do go every six months, maybe once a quarter.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy told PoliticsHome that the EU would be Labour’s “number one priority” in order to rebuild Britain’s reputation as a world leader after the divisiveness of Brexit.

But Kearns, who voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 Brexit referendum before she was an MP, disagreed that the EU should be a top foreign policy priority, arguing that the EU is “not primarily a foreign policy and defence organisation as much as an economic one”. 

“But there are relationships we have there to be protected and to be enhanced,” she said.

“And I think it shows a good sign that we are willing to go, just as other countries are. It's not about us begging, it’s about us having a meaningful conversation.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee chair said Cleverly had been “very pragmatic” in his dealings with the EU and was “not playing games”.

“He's not running around trying to say the UK is more powerful than others," she continued.

“I don't think this is James [Cleverly] being found wanting, but I do think it would demonstrate goodwill for us to go [to Brussels]."

Defending the UK’s prominence on the international stage, Kearns claimed that many presidents request meetings with her as a backbench committee chair, rather than the other way around. 

"I completely reject the idea that we've declined on the world stage,” she said.

“Any country I go to they open the doors to me… the Prime Minister of Kosovo asked to meet the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. This is not normal.

“The president of South Africa, the deputy prime minister of Pakistan, when I go to the US, I meet with secretaries of state. This is not something afforded to any other country.

“When I went to the Munich Security Conference, foreign secretaries, prime ministers, presidents of countries around the world, were asking to meet with me, I'm not asking to meet with them.

“This is because Britain is seen as having a fundamental role on the world stage, and the reason for that is we have the best diplomatic service in the world.”

This week, Kearns is meeting with a number of international representatives, including from Iraq, Taiwan, Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, and Israel. 

A spokesperson for James Cleverly said the foreign secretary was engaged in in-person meetings with the EU to work on furthering post-Brexit agreements. 

“Following regular and often face-to-face meetings with Maros Sefcovic that built the relationship where we could move to the Windsor Framework agreed between the PM and [European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen], we continue to meet both in the UK and Brussels to work on furthering agreements to build a post Brexit relationship that works for both,” he said.

“James Cleverly is in Brussels today doing just that.”

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