Thursday 14 May 2020 1:28 pm

Tory MPs call for trade bill overhaul amid fears over UK’s reliance on China

Two dozen Tory MPs have called for a revamp of the UK’s trade bill amid concerns that Britain is too reliant on China for imports to critical national infrastructure.

The group, which includes former Brexit secretary David Davis and party leader Iain Duncan Smith, today penned a letter to trade secretary Liz Truss urging the government to reconsider the bill currently going through the Commons.

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It comes after a report warned that the UK relies too heavily on China for scores of imports, many of which service parts of the country’s critical national infrastructure.

Pharmaceutical ingredients needed for antibiotics, painkillers and anti-viral medicines are among the goods listed alongside consumer electronics such as laptops and phones.

Overall, the UK is strategically dependent on China for 227 categories of goods, 57 of which are needed in key infrastructure, according to the Henry Jackson society.

Strategic dependency is defined as when more than 50 per cent of imports of certain goods come from one country.

Citing the report, the MPs called on the government to reduce Britain’s dependence on any one state when striking new trade deals.

They also said the government should update parliament on the number of categories in which the UK is strategically dependent on another nation and should set a definition of strategic import dependency.

“We support trade with China,” the letter read. “However, we need to balance that with; first, a concern for China’s strategic objective of dominating key industries and technologies; and second, a mindfulness of the UK’s national strategic interest.” 

The Tory backbenchers added that the UK’s struggle to source key personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 crisis had highlighted the issue of relying on other nations for imports, especially when dealing with “authoritarian states” such as Russia and China.

In its report, the Henry Jackson Society said all members of the so-called Five Eyes security alliance — the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — were too reliant on Beijing and should attempt to “decouple”.

The think tank urged the countries to mirror the US’s system of entity lists, which ban firms from doing business with nations that have engaged in unfair trade practices or intellectual property theft.

The US has used this strategy to implement a ban on controversial Chinese tech firm Huawei, which it has accused of spying.

The report said the countries should also establish a working group to explore the viability of a Five Eyes free-trading zone.

“The Five Eyes’ concerning reliance on China – a country that does not share our values and has different strategic priorities – has been exposed by the Covid-19 crisis,” said Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society.

“The pandemic has laid bare the dangers of rampant globalisation without consideration of who our trading partners are, whether they are distorting the free trade system, and how our strategic dependency might make us vulnerable.”

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Newly-released polling published alongside the report suggested that the majority of Brits also support a tougher approach to China.

Sixty-three per cent said they supported a more hardline US-style trade policy towards Beijing, while 62 per cent of UK adults said they would support bringing back the manufacturing of key medical supplies to Britain from China.