Ukraine is set to be top of the agenda as Foreign Secretary James Cleverly begins a two-day trip to the US and Canada.
Speaking ahead of his departure, Mr Cleverly said: “The UK, US and Canada always have each other’s backs when it counts, protecting the rules-based order for nearly 80 years.”
He continued: “Today we stand united against Putin’s illegal war, and we will continue to use our uniquely strong defence and security ties to ensure that, in the end, the Ukrainian people will win.”
He will deliver a keynote speech at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, at which he is set to outline Britain’s foreign policy priorities before talks with his US counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The two will then hold a joint news conference.
On Monday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that British tanks, artillery pieces and armoured vehicles are to be sent to Ukraine.
Mr Cleverly is set to use this British pledge to persuade the Americans and the Canadians to follow the UK’s lead. He is expected to stress the need for the right battlefield tools to be given to the Ukrainians quickly to allow them to win the war.
The Americans have delivered billions of dollars worth of weaponry to Ukraine over the past 11 months, but only in carefully managed tranches with limited capability for fear of provoking Russia.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is committed to the acceleration of the UK’s diplomatic and military assistance to Ukraine as Russia prepares to launch a new offensive.
Top members of President Biden’s team are in the Ukrainian capital this week for meetings with President Zelenskyy.
Antony Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman, Dr. Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defence for policy and Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, are all in Kyiv after meetings in Germany and Poland where they discussed continued US support for Ukraine.
Beyond Ukraine, the British government hopes the elusive UK-US trade deal will be discussed with the Americans in Washington.
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In Toronto, on Wednesday, Mr Cleverly is set to discuss British efforts to become a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a key free trade agreement between 11 countries including Canada.
Britain has reached the final phase of CPTPP accession, but disagreements remain over levels of market access the existing members would have to Britain.
Northern Ireland is also set to feature in discussions between Mr Cleverly and Mr Blinken. As speculation mounts that a EU-UK compromise over the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol may be close, the UK will seek the support of the US.
President Biden has taken a close interest in negotiations over Northern Ireland and has made clear that the UK’s handling of the issue could impact the chances of a US-UK trade deal.
Cleverly has a tricky job
This is the most important trip for James Cleverly since he became foreign secretary last year.
He was appointed by Liz Truss but survived that chaos and was retained by Rishi Sunak. He’s quickly built a reputation for impressive diplomacy.
Comfortable in his own skin and outwardly confident with his brief, he is popular within the Foreign Office and, it seems, liked by his counterparts in foreign capitals.
But as Britain’s top diplomat, he has a tricky job. The UK’s global position is diminished. The world has looked at usually stable Britain in surprise as our politics has faltered and our economy sputters.
Cleverly will be pushing progress on the illusive US-UK trade deal and trying to reassure the Americans that Britain is now close to a workable solution for Northern Ireland. Biden, with his Irish roots, is watching closely. The shadow of Brexit is long.
But Ukraine will be the thrust for Cleverly.
Rishi Sunak’s government is trying to fill the hole left by Boris Johnson’s departure. Johnson’s forthright stance on the defence of Ukraine was admired across Western nations.
There will be an attempt on this trip to show clear British leadership and initiative to encourage deeper, faster international alignment over Ukraine.
We’re told that Cleverly will attempt to persuade his American and Canadian counterparts that now is the time to give Ukraine the tools it needs to win the war, not just to hold the frontline.
The British consignment of tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles will do little to change the battlefield picture on their own. Indeed, prepare for the prized Russian propaganda image of a Challenger 2 burned and destroyed.
The British hope is that their tank package will incentivise other nations to follow with their own equipment.
Cleverly’s message will be: arm Ukraine properly now and this can be over sooner rather than later with a weakened Russia forced to negotiate.
The Americans have sent huge quantities of lethal equipment to Ukraine changing the course of the war. But they’ve not yet sent tanks, mechanized artillery or armoured vehicles which could repel Russian advances.
The fear, always, has been Putin’s reaction to the full Western arming of Ukraine. And so, little by little, America has increased what it has been prepared to deliver.
But Biden is under growing domestic congressional pressure to justify his Ukraine spending. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers want audits and proof that America is backing a winner not simply prolonging the conflict and the bloodshed.