Foreign Secretary William Hague used a visit to Tunisia to declare that change in the country where protests sparked flare-ups across the region must be “swift, comprehensive and irreversible”.
He made his comments after talks with interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and International Co-operation Minister Mohammed Jouini.
The Foreign Secretary is on the first leg of a three-day visit taking in five countries in north Africa and the Middle East.
His trip comes at a time of continuing street demonstrations challenging the position of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt – though Downing Street made clear Mr Hague would not be visiting the strife-torn country.
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled his country on January 15 after violent street protests.
Before flying on to Jordan for talks on the Middle East peace process, Mr Hague said: “It is a time of great opportunity for the Middle East. The courage, dignity and sacrifice of ordinary people in Tunisia in pursuit of universal freedoms that we take for granted has been inspiring.
“Freedom of assembly, the rule of law, freedom of speech and free and fair elections – these are inalienable rights that are the building blocks of free and open societies.
“The UK stands ready to support those across the region who aspire to greater economic development and more open political systems. A remarkable transition is under way in Tunisia. The government has made encouraging progress in responding to the aspirations of its people.
“It must now ensure that change is swift, comprehensive and irreversible. As the Tunisian people look to build a brighter future, they will find the UK a steady and committed friend.”
Mr Hague also confirmed Tunisia would qualify for a share of £5 million Foreign Office funding to support reform projects across the Middle East to promote access to justice, freedom of expression, democratic institutions and civil society.