Coronavirus, and the response to it, is going to change a lot of things about UK politics. Perhaps, the biggest shift will come in this country’s attitude to China. I write in the magazine this week that the desire for supply chain security, and particularly for medical goods, will lead to a national policy aim of manufacturing more here.
In the same way that policy makers wanted to achieve ‘food security’ after World War Two, coronavirus will lead to a desire for ‘medical security’: that’ll mean the ability to produce medical equipment, vaccines and drugs here. When I asked one influential government figure what the most significant change brought about by this virus would be, I was told: ‘We’re going to be doing a lot less trade with China after this'.
China’s reaction to this crisis has underlined the kind of regime that it is. Chinese efforts to cover up information about Covid-19 were bad enough, but there has been shock at the use of China’s diplomatic network to spread misinformation about the origins of the pandemic.
One close ally of the Prime Minister who had always defended Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Huawei to build part of the UK’s 5G network now concedes that there will need to be a rapid timetable to replace it with a supplier from a more trustworthy state.
Even if the government didn’t want to move on this, it would come under huge parliamentary pressure to do so. One of the Tories orchestrating the revolt against the Huawei decision tells me that their numbers have swelled considerably in the past fortnight. Another Downing Street insider predicts that there will now, for the first time, be public pressure for a tougher line on China.