Steerpike

Labour demand probe into Tory China visit

Labour demand probe into Tory China visit
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It was revealed on Monday that ministers want to remove Beijing’s state-owned energy company China General Nuclear (CGN) from future UK power projects. In light of this, Steerpike thought he would look into those MPs and peers who have declared enjoying hospitality from CGN in the past.

Neil Coyle, Trudy Harrison, Sue Hayman and Lord Broers all visited China in November 2018 and had their travel and accommodation costs paid by CGN as part of a trip by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuclear Energy. Various total costs are listed but they will have exceeded £50,000, according to an entry on the APPG’s website. An awkward declaration in light of the government’s hardening stance on China perhaps – but at least they registered their visit in line with parliamentary rules.

By contrast, Tory backbencher Ian Liddell-Grainger has made no such declaration in his register of members’ interests, more than two and a half years on. This is despite him telling a Westminster Hall debate on the future of Hinkley Point the week after the trip: ‘I have just returned from China, which I visited with a group of colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy. We were guests of EDF’s Chinese partners, CGN.’

The Bridgwater and West Somerset MP also praised the CGN’s reactor in Taishan in the debate and is a long-standing champion of Hinkley Point here in the UK. Liddell-Grainger did not respond to requests by The Spectator for comment.

Now Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds has written to Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, asking her to ‘urgently investigate’ the apparent violation of the House of Commons’ code of conduct for members. Dodds said: ‘This appears to be a clear cut breach of the rules on registering overseas visits by a Conservative MP who has been around long enough to know better.

‘Ian Liddell-Granger’s failure to register this visit shows contempt for the rules that all MPs must follow. If there’s been a breach, the Parliament’s standards watchdog should throw the book at this MP to show that there cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and other for everyone else.’

Exeter academic Martin Thorley has noted in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee that Liddell-Grainger led efforts in Parliament to push back against official UK intelligence advice that equipment made by ZTE, the Chinese Party-state ‘state-owned and privately run’ technology group, was a national security risk.

Thorley has also pointed out that the Nuclear Energy APPG, the China APPG and the Energy Studies APPG, have all received sponsorship from EDF – CGN’s partner in the Hinkley nuclear project. Now such links are coming under closer scrutiny.

Tom Tugendhat, the co-chair of the China Research Group, told Steerpike: ‘The CCP looks to make its power felt in Britain by exerting influence across politics and business. Clearly, we need to engage with Chinese officials and businesses, but this is a reminder that should take place in a much more clear-eyed and transparent way.’

Still, at least such trips came during the (dying) days of the so-called ‘golden-era’ in UK-China relations, prior to the Hong Kong crackdown and the revelations about the regime’s treatment of Uighur Muslims becoming mainstream. Now most MPs are a bit more wary about declaring trips or payments from companies with close links to the Chinese state.

Not so Tory backbencher Karen Bradley who, two weeks ago, declared receipt of £1,000 for a panel appearance at a technology conference for Huawei. Bradley does appear to have an ongoing relationship with the company, appearing as a guest on Huawei’s first ever podcast.

The golden era might be over but there’s still a chance to get some silver too.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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