James Cleverly says he is proof Britain has confronted ‘colonial past’

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Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong has urged the UK to come to terms with the “uncomfortable” legacy in Asia and the Pacific. She urged it to deal with imperial wrongdoing to find “more common ground” with nations it governed.

Malaysia-born Wong had a grandmother who worked as a servant for “British colonialists” some of whom had tobacco and timber plantations.

Mr Cleverly said that while “history matters, what matters more is what we are going to do in the future”.

He pointed out that Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister and Suella Braverman being appointed Home Secretary also show the huge strides Britain has made.

Asked if Britain had done enough about the Empire, Mr Cleverly said: “You’re asking the black foreign secretary of the United Kingdom?

“The answer is yes. You’re looking at it. You’re talking to it.”

He added: “I mean, the bottom line is we have a Prime Minister of Asian heritage. We have a Home Secretary of Asian heritage, we have a Foreign Secretary of African heritage.

“We have fantastic working relationships with the countries that were formerly colonies.”

Mr Cleverly said the UK is forging strong ties with Commonwealth countries and states. He said: “We can be defined by our past, or we can set our sights on a really fantastic, optimistic future.”

Asked if other European nations need to address their histories, Mr Cleverly said: “There’s always a lot of difficult truths that you have to address and our collective parts.”

He said there was “no tension” with Australia.

He conceded it was not possible to “erase your history”, but it was important that London was “conscious” of it when dealing with former colonial countries.

The Government is looking to forge stronger ties in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s growing influence in the region, with Canberra seen as a key ally.

Mr Cleverly, asked about the remarks of Ms Wong at a joint UK-Australia press briefing in Portsmouth, said he had discussed colonialism during talks but the mainstay was “our future joint work, our joint endeavours with regard to security, prosperity, technological advancement”.

Along with the countries’ defence ministers, they travelled to a military facility on Wednesday and saw British and Australian forces training Ukrainian troops.

In Australia, some commentators have accused Ms Wong of “lecturing” and being “woke”, “rude and self-indulgent”.

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