Is May set to abandon Osborne’s China dream?

Christian May
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Theresa May fired George Osborne as chancellor (Source: Getty)

It's almost a month since David Cameron left office. With his entire staff to the right of him and his family to the left, the outgoing PM delivered his final address to the nation in a typically calm and confident fashion. As he did so, the famous door behind him hid scenes of frantic activity.

A new boss was coming – with new staff, new ideas and new priorities. Theresa May's team were arriving through the back door of Number 10, stunned by the speed at which they'd moved from running a leadership campaign to finding desk space in the country's most famous office. Those first few days were frenetic, bordering on chaotic, but the speed with which a new course has been set is nothing short of remarkable. In just four weeks, May has redrawn the map of Whitehall, creating new posts and new departments.

She's articulated a reform agenda that contrasts with (rather than builds on) that of her predecessor, claiming that her government will work “for the many, not the privileged few.” She's outlined plans for a major overhaul of corporate governance and executive pay, and she's teed-up major new policies on education, energy and infrastructure investment.

Read more: Theresa May wants to "reform capitalism", according to Number 10

One of the most striking endeavours of these four short weeks has been the distance May has sought to put between herself and former chancellor George Osborne. Firing him was just the beginning. Since then she's signalled a move away from his beloved Northern Powerhouse idea in favour of a wider industrial strategy. Manchester's leaders fear any watering down could deter highly-prized foreign investment, particularly from China. Indeed, it seems that a less committed approach to relations with China could be the hallmark of May's post-Osborne economic policy. Concerns over Chinese involvement in the Hinkley Point power station may just be the more visible sign of May's scepticism.

Read more: EDF chairman Jean-Bernard Levy to sue union over claims about Hinkley Point

Where does she stand on Osborne's mooted tie-up between the London and Shanghai stock exchanges? What of the £100bn that China is set to invest in the UK over the next decade? May needs to decide whether now, post-referendum, is really the time to cool on Chinese opportunities. Osborne wanted the UK to be China's “best partner in the West.” Does May?

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