Cleverly calls UK and Australia ‘best of mates’ ahead of defence and trade talks


he Foreign Secretary has described the UK and Australia as the “best of mates” in the lead-up to talks focused on trade and defence.

James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will meet with their Australian counterparts as part of discussions held in London, Salisbury and Portsmouth this week.

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong and defence minister Richard Marles, who is also the deputy prime minister, are in Britain for the annual meeting between ministers, which is dubbed “Aukmin”.

Together we are promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific, boosting trade, and pursuing our vital climate targets

Mr Cleverly said: “The UK and Australia are the best of mates and for over a century we have been hard-headed champions of freedom and democracy.

“In an increasingly volatile world, we are pursuing a forward-looking agenda with Australia as a trusted partner and friend.

“Together we are promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific, boosting trade, and pursuing our vital climate targets.”

Following bilateral talks on Wednesday, the group will visit Salisbury Plain to see Australian and UK troops training Ukrainian soldiers, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said.

The joint training programme, which also involves forces from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, and the Netherlands, is part of an “acceleration of efforts” by the UK and allies to aid Ukraine in defeating the invading Russian force, according to officials.

On Thursday, the FCDO said ministers will gather for meetings at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth to discuss long-term co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, as well as broader collaboration on climate, security and trade.

Mr Wallace said: “Australia is our close and valued defence partner, with historic ties spanning the decades.

“The Australian armed forces are providing vital training for the brave Ukrainian men and women here in the UK, learning the skills they will need to return and defend their country.

“We are also progressing our collaboration over the Aukus programme, promoting security and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific.”

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in 2021, announced a UK “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific.

As well as looking to protect security interests in the face of China’s growing influence in the region, London also wants to capitalise economically.

It has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a £9 trillion free trade bloc, with the Foreign Office stating that the region is set to account for half of global growth by 2050.

London and Canberra are working closely together on defence, with a three-way Aukus pact between the UK, Australia and the US signed in September 2021 set to deliver nuclear-powered submarine capability to the Commonwealth country.

Officials said ministers would “take stock of progress” on Aukus as well as reviewing work towards ratifying the UK’s bilateral free trade agreement with Australia, which is expected to come into force in spring.

Former environment secretary George Eustice has become one of the most vocal critics of the deal, arguing British negotiations gave away “far too much” to secure the post-Brexit agreement.

The Aukmin summit comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the G20 in Bali and Indo-Pacific minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan visited Australia in November.

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