In conversation with Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee

In conversation with Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee


Tulchan Frameworks, hosted by James Harding, Co-founder and Editor, Tortoise Media, in conversation with Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

In the week that China passed a wide-ranging new security law for Hong Kong, making it easier to crackdown on protests, opposition and political crimes such as collusion and subversion, the conversation focussed on the implications for global trade and the choices facing the UK.

Hong Kong and the British response

The UK government’s announcement on visas is an admission that earlier ambitions had failed. It is regrettable that instead of discussing the process of openness led by David Cameron and George Osborne which saw trade and commerce grow, we are providing a life raft for Hong Kongers. We are unlikely to see hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens moving to the UK immediately. The visas and path to UK citizenship announced by the Foreign Secretary is something that we hope will give people confidence to stay, for the time being, knowing they can leave later if needed. In addition, cities like Vancouver and Melbourne remain bigger Hong Kong cities than anywhere in the UK.

Global trade after the pandemic

Covid-19 has accelerated, but not fundamentally changed the direction of travel. China continues to seek to reverse the web of arrangements built over the last few decades which have allowed global trade to flourish. We are witnessing the lurch towards bilateral relationships between centre and periphery, as opposed to interlocking partnerships of rights and responsibilities. There is a particular challenge for the UK, for which few countries are more reliant on global trade and the rules-based system.

Huawei and the UK

Huawei is not just about 5G, spying or market dependence – it is about the architecture that will underpin the future economy. Who writes the rules of commerce for the next 50 years? The UK – through accountancy, law and property – wrote the operating system for the 18-20th Centuries. The UK may find that being in the middle of a US-China confrontation is an uncomfortable position. It can be argued about how great a delay to the rollout of 5G in the UK would arise should Huawei be prevented from involvement. What is important not to overlook is the strategic interests of the UK.

The China model

The commitment to democracy amongst some voters in the west is in decline. The arc of prosperity used to be aligned with property rights and the rule of law. This is less clear cut today. Look at the response to Covid-19 – it is less important if you are a democracy or autocracy, what matters is your governance structures.

Financial support

At present, many voters are nervous but grateful for the government’s financial support. But we are approaching a moment where things might change, and where furloughed employees might become unemployed, as financial support drifts away and businesses reassess their viability. Has the intervention been too small? It remains to be seen, and the Chancellor is making a financial statement next week, it needs to be – clout, don’t dribble. The UK government remains able to borrow at low interest rates, and lower than many other economies. This might be a moment not just to invest in ‘shovel-ready projects’, but also into major long-term upgrades, including life-long training. If the Conservative government is unsuccessful, it could, like in 1945, open the door for Labour to reshape the country in its image.