The mood in Westminster has gone somewhat quiet over the past two days, after Christian Wakeford's defection on Wednesday stopped the momentum of Tory plotters in parliament. But for a few hours yesterday, passions came alive once more – this time on an issue of policy. Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling was dragged to the House to answer questions from seething China hawks over the Commons debate on the Uyghur Tribunal's verdict of genocide.
The hapless Milling was appointed to her current post as Minister for Asia in September 2021, after being demoted from her role as Chairman of the Conservative party. And, for all its current difficulties, how Milling must have wished she was back at CCHQ yesterday as her own backbenchers tore into her prevarications and evasions on why the government is refusing to label China's atrocities in Xinjiang as 'genocide.'
Former minister Nus Ghani declared that ministers were 'using expensive government lawyers to weasel their way out of acting—a course of action that is truly reprehensible'; Sir Iain Duncan Smith lambasted the Chinese government and its purpose to 'countermand the idea of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.' On the other side, Labour's Janet Daby declared it was 'astonishing, shocking and an absolute disgrace that our Government did not participate and give evidence' on the Tribunal while shadow defence minister Stephen Kinnock concluded that 'the evidence of genocide in Xinjiang is compelling and conclusive.'
Milling was sent out on a thankless task, while her chief Liz Truss is out in Australia. But the rattled minister did not help matters by repeatedly refusing to take interventions from Sir Iain, despite his status as a senior Privy Counsellor and former party leader. Her answers frustrated MPs by appearing to refuse to engage with the substance of the debate, with the unfortunate minister fleeing the chamber at the close of debate before any colleagues could talk to her. One source close to the Uyghur campaign told Mr S that: 'the Titanic was less out of its depth. When her greatest hits are compiled, it'll rank with the time she read out an answer on Nigeria to a question about China.'
Not for nothing did one of Steerpike's spies subsequently spot Milling drowning her sorrows at a nearby Westminster watering hole later that evening. How apt to choose the Two Chairmen for such an occasion, given her previous Tory party role and unfortunate inability to hold Mao's successors to account.