PM's father urges Boris to 'stand up' to Tory hawks amid China row

PM’s father Stanley wades into China row by urging Boris Johnson to ‘stand up’ to Tory hawks accused of ‘cooking up new Cold war’ with Beijing – saying post-Brexit UK must work ‘even closer’ with the communist state

  • Stanley Johnson urged the PM to ‘stand up’ to Tory hawks amid China row
  • Former MEP said it was ‘absolutely vital’ Britain ‘works very closely’ with Beijing
  • He rubbished Tory demands the UK should be ‘tougher’ towards China 
  • Boris Johnson sparked party civil war over foreign and defence policy last week
  • Security chiefs called China a ‘generational threat’ to western governments 

The Prime Minister’s father has waded into the Tory civil war on China by urging him to ‘stand up’ to the hawks accused of seeking a ‘new Cold War’ with Beijing.

Former MEP Stanley Johnson said it is ‘absolutely vital’ that Britain continues to ‘work very closely’ with the Chinese government ‘even more’ post-Brexit.

The 80-year-old, whose son Boris Johnson was praised by George Osborne for ‘seeing off the hotheads’ last week, rubbished Tory demands that the UK should be tougher despite a year of tensions with China. 

Speaking to Times Radio, he said he was suspicious of a ‘tendency’ among Conservatives to ‘cook up’ a conflict with Beijing, saying that it does not make ‘any sense’ to try to match Beijing ‘weapon for weapon’.

Instead, Mr Johnson Sr called China ‘the key to so many things’ – from climate change to the world economy and the pandemic – and hinted that Tory passions could be ‘redirected’ to Brussels instead.   

‘China is absolutely not a bette noir. It’s the key to so many things,’ the Prime Minister’s father said. ‘In political terms, it’s absolutely vital we work very closely with China. He (the Prime Minister) is right not to write off China at this point – on the contrary, I think he’s right to move to discussions with China, important discussions. 

‘It is inevitable, even more inevitable now that we have left the EU.’

Asked whether the UK should be tougher with Beijing, he went on: ‘Well, I don’t think we’re going to do that. I don’t think there’s any way in which we can match China weapon for weapon for weapon. 

The Prime Minister’s father has waded into the Tory civil war on China by urging him to ‘stand up’ to the hawks accused of seeking a ‘new Cold War’ with Beijing

Critics say President Xi Jinping China is ‘much more aggressive in its region’, citing the ‘crackdown in Hong Kong’ and the ‘appalling treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang’

The flash points in the war of words between Britain and Beijing

Britain and Beijing have clashed repeatedly in recent years with tensions between the two sides steadily rising. 

The main issues of contention have been the treatment of the Uighur people, the coronavirus pandemic, Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network and Hong Kong. 

Human rights abuses against the Uighur

China has faced repeated accusations of human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang province.  

Boris Johnson today said Britain has led the world in ‘expressing our deep concern’ at China’s treatment of the Uighur people as he insisted the UK will continue to defend its values on the world stage.   

The UK Government is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to take a tougher stance on the issue amid calls for sanctions to be imposed on any Chinese government officials involved in human rights abuses. 

There have also been calls for the UK to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, something Mr Johnson has signalled he is not in favour of. 

The Government has been highly critical of Beijing, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stating last July that it is clear that ‘gross, egregious human rights abuses’ are being perpetrated against the Uighur people in northern China. 

Beijing has rejected the accusations of human rights abuses. 

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, last year hit back at the ‘false accusations’ after he was confronted with video footage of Uighur people being detained and forced onto a train in Xinjiang.

Free speech and Hong Kong

Beijing’s decision to impose a controversial national security law on Hong Kong last year prompted the UK to announce a path to citizenship for three million Hong Kongers with British National (Overseas) status.  

Critics argued the national security law would be used as a tool to crackdown on dissent after a wave of pro-democracy protests in the city. 

China accused the UK of treating it like a ‘hostile country’ in the wake of the citizenship decision and warned Britain will ‘pay the price’. 

Tensions further increased this month after China approved a controversial ‘patriotic’ plan to control elections in Hong Kong, prompting Mr Raab to accuse Beijing of further ‘hollowing out’ democracy.

Coronavirus cover-up

Downing Street prompted fury in Beijing in May last year after it said there are ‘questions that need to be answered’ about the origin of Covid-19. 

Number 10’s comments came after then-US president Donald Trump claimed to have seen evidence the disease came from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. 

Mr Trump made the explosive claim but refused to reveal what the evidence was. 

Number 10 would not be drawn on the specifics of Mr Trump’s comments but again reiterated its desire for an international probe into the start of the outbreak.


The UK Government announced in January last year that Chinese communications giant Huawei would be granted a role in building Britain’s new 5G network. 

But ministers then performed a U-turn in July, with the firm banned from the network while all of its existing 5G technology will be stripped out by 2027 over national security concerns.

Links to UK universities 

Ex-minister Jo Johnson recently highlighted the issues of collaboration between UK universities and China, saying the risks were ‘poorly understood’.

A study led by the PM’s brother suggested there had been a significant increase in funding from the communist state, including in sensitive areas such as automation and telecommunications. 

It also raised questions over whether collaboration could threaten freedom of speech.

‘The UK urgently needs to put in place a framework for this key relationship so that it will be able to withstand rising geopolitical tensions. Failure to do so risks real damage to our knowledge economy,’ said Mr Johnson.

‘I do not think that makes any sense at all, we’ve got to engage with China at an intellectual level. Look at the number of Chinese students at British universities today. Can you imagine the effect on British universities, even the financial effect on British universities, if we had a rupture now with the Chinese? 

‘I mean, a lot of them would just go out of business, that they are so dependent on Chinese students, Chinese research, and so on and so forth. So I feel quite strongly.

‘I would be worried by a tendency in the Tory party to suddenly, you know, cook up… maybe they’ll be distracted by Ursula von der Leyen. We’ll see, maybe their aggressive instincts can be redirected to Brussels at this point in time.’

Mr Johnson Sr met Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming and emailed his worries about coronavirus to British officials in February of last year. 

Accidentally copying in the BBC, the Prime Minister’s father used his personal email address to share an account of the discussion with the environment minister Lord Goldsmith and other government officials.

‘Re the outbreak of coronavirus, Mr Liu obviously was concerned that there had not yet – so he asserted – been direct contact between the PM and Chinese head of state or government in terms of a personal message or telephone call,’ he wrote.

The Chinese Ambassador told him the Prime Minister had not yet directly contacted Beijing, while sources told the BBC Mr Johnson Sr was not acting on behalf or at the request of the British government.

In his interview with Times Radio, Mr Johnson Sr also revealed that he sang The Hippopotamus Song with the Chinese Ambassador during one meeting. 

The environmentalist also said the Prime Minister is wrong to oppose carbon taxes, adding: ‘If it comes to the question of carbon taxes, I think we would absolutely need to go down that route. If the government suddenly said ‘so sorry, we cannot go into the aspect of cross border carbon taxes’, which is fundamental if you’re going to have to deal with climate change, I think I would then stand up.’ 

His intervention comes amid a raging Tory revolt over the Government’s strategy for relations with China after its Integrated Review was published last week.

The security document takes a much softer tone on China than to Russia, saying that although it is an ‘authoritarian state’ it will be ‘an increasingly important partner’.

‘China is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness, biodiversity and climate change,’ the report says.

‘We will continue to pursue a positive economic relationship, including deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK.’

Unveiling the document last week, Mr Johnson told MPs that the Government had been at the forefront of criticising Beijing over human rights abuses. 

‘There is no question that China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours,’ he said. ‘But we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests.’

Tory defence select committee chief Tobias Ellwood said he had hoped Mr Johnson would take the opportunity to ‘call out’ China for the ‘geo-strategic threat it is’.

Intelligence committee chair Julian Lewis warned that the ‘grasping naivety of the Cameron Osborne years’ towards China ‘still lingers’ in some departments, while Foreign Affairs committee head Tom Tugendhat said the review was only a ‘start’ in rebalancing the UK’s approach.

Former MI6 chief Alex Younger also warned China poses a ‘generational threat’ and the idea it will adopt Western values on freedom and democracy is ‘for the birds’. 

Mark Sedwill, the former Cabinet Secretary, said the UK must be willing to ‘contest, contain, confront’ China when it ‘breaks international norms’ as he warned the Western alliance must show greater unity when challenging Beijing.

The former national security adviser said China is now ‘much more aggressive in its region’ and ‘like all authoritarian regimes, respects strength and unity’.

He said if the West is going to ‘push back effectively’ against ‘unacceptable’ Chinese behaviour then ‘we need to do so with a sense of common purpose across the Western alliance and that has been sadly lacking over the past few years’.

Lord Sedwill was grilled on the UK’s relationship with China during an appearance in front of the House of Lords’ International Relations and Defence Committee.

He told peers that under the leadership of President Xi Jinping China is ‘much more aggressive in its region’ as he cited the ‘crackdown in Hong Kong’ and the ‘appalling treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang’.

He said: ‘We have to, while maintaining the access to the economic opportunities, the imperative to cooperate with China on the big environmental challenges and some security challenges, we must also be able to contest, contain, where necessary confront Chinese behaviour when it breaks international norms.

‘I think we have seen… that is a trend in Western countries’ policy generally, very robustly in the United States, actually robustly here too in my view, Australia as well for example, less so among some of our other allies, but I hope they will bring themselves to the same appreciation of the need to stand in solidarity to contest, confront, contain China’s unacceptable behaviour because when we do have a sense of common purpose then I think that is our best opportunity of influencing it.

‘China, like all countries, like all authoritarian regimes, respects strength and unity among the West and we need to show more of that.’

However, former chancellor George Osborne hit back at Tory hawks as he praised the Prime Minister for ‘seeing off the hotheads’ who he claimed want to start a ‘new Cold War’ with the Chinese government.

The former Evening Standard editor said he sees ‘a lot of continuity’ between the new strategy for relations with China and the ‘golden era’ approach he took when he was in power with David Cameron.

Speaking to the House of Lords’ International Relations and Defence Committee, Mr Osborne said he believes Mr Johnson is correct to recognise the ‘threat’ posed by China while also seeking to ‘engage’ with the country. 

‘China is changing, becoming more assertive, but the question of how you deal with it has not changed,’ the former chancellor said.

‘And that to me is why I think Boris Johnson should be congratulated for seeing off the hotheads who want to launch some new Cold War with China and instead promoting an approach that is realistic about the threat that China poses but also wants to engage in the opportunity.

‘Talks about increasing trade, talks about increasing investment from China and essentially tries to co-opt China rather than confront China and to me that was the approach back then and it is the approach today.’

Mr Osborne said he believed his approach of ‘engaging with China in a more meaningful and deeper relationship that recognised the threat but also sought to try and co-opt China into the international order’ was ‘realistic’.

He added: ‘It was a deeper relationship and frankly reading the Government’s security document that they published yesterday, I see a lot of continuity in what is being proposed now and I very much welcome that.’

Mr Osborne said there ‘have been things that China has done that are not acceptable’ as he mentioned interference in Hong Kong and ‘suppression’ of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province.  

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