Rachel Reeves Interview: The UK Needs To Be Less Reliant On China

Labour's shadow chancellor said national security "has got to come first" following alarm over spy balloons.
Rachel Reeves said she wanted Labour to be a "pro-worker, pro-business party".
Rachel Reeves said she wanted Labour to be a "pro-worker, pro-business party".
Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images

The UK needs to become less reliant on China, Rachel Reeves has said, as security concerns mount over its surveillance of the West.

Labour’s shadow chancellor said the PPE scandal and the ongoing energy crisis had highlighted how Britain was “over-exposed” to global dictators and countries who “don’t share our values”.

Her comments come amid increasing alarm at China’s surveillance activities after four flying objects, suspected to be spy balloons, were shot down over the US and Canada in the past week.

Ministers have warned that it is possible that spy balloons have also entered UK airspace, prompting defence secretary Ben Wallace to conduct a review into the security implications of potential “airspace intrusions”.

Speaking to HuffPost UK while on a visit to a manufacturing and innovation hub in Northumbria, Reeves said Britain needed to be “more self-sufficient, more resilient and more secure and as a nation — both economically but also in terms of our national security”.

“I think we are still too over-reliant on China,” she said. “National security has always got to come first — whether on telecommunications or energy, I want us to do more to buy, make and sell more here in Britain. It boosts our security and is better value for money for taxpayers and British consumers.”

Rishi Sunak is facing growing calls to adopt a tougher stance on China and to formally declare it a “threat” as his rival Liz Truss did during the Tory leadership contest.

Despite indicating that the “golden era” of UK-China relations was over last November, Sunak has been accused of rowing back on more robust language by branding China a “systematic challenge”.

His policy of engagement with China has been criticised by a band of backbench MPs, who are protesting against the planned visit of the governor of Xinjiang to the UK.

China is facing accusations that it has forcibly sterilised Uighur women and put children in “concentration camps” in the province, which it denies.

Asked whether she believed China should formally be declared a threat, Reeves avoided using the word and said: “I think there are areas where we do want to talk to China, we do want to have a dialogue and we do want to be selling into Chinese markets, but national security has always got to come first.

“We can’t leave ourselves exposed to spyware, to having our energy needs outsourced to China.”

Reeves may want to distance the UK from China, but she is, however, keen to seek closer ties with the EU.

She said is was “absolutely the case” that the Brexit deal the government secured was “costing Britain jobs and investment”.

Last week, former chancellor Philip Hammond said that Brexit had made the UK poorer, while former Bank of England economist Jonathan Haskel also said the departure from the EU had costs households £1,000 each.

“It is absolutely the case that the deal that the government secured is not a good enough deal and it is costing Britain jobs and investment,” Reeves said.

“Keir [Starmer] and I have spoken about building a stronger and closer relationship with our European neighbours and partners because it is in our national interest to ensure our companies can export around the world and to Europe.

“It’s not good enough just to get Brexit done, we’ve got to make it work.”

In recent days, Labour has been buoyed by the defection of Tory businessman Iain Anderson, who said he was joining Labour in anger at the Conservatives’ “culture war”.

Paul Drechsler, the former president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), also said Labour was “winning” the argument on business and that Reeves was responsible for overhauling the party’s image.

Reeves said she wanted Labour to be seen as the party “that is pro-worker and pro-business”.

“I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of years to rebuild Labour’s relationship with business, because we want business to see Britain as a great place to invest and create jobs and wealth and prosperity.

“This is an indiction that Labour is getting that right and is an indication that under a future Labour government, those jobs and that investment that we need to see in Britain are going to be coming back.”

Labour has done much over the past year to characterise the Conservatives as lax with public money. During the coronavirus pandemic, the party highlighted how lucrative contracts were being handed out to firms with either little to no experience making PPE for NHS workers.

Reeves described the latest example of PPE waste — in which a firm landed a £26m contract after a meeting between Tory party chair Greg Hands and an activist — as “shocking”.

The party has also accused the government of lavish spending on dinners, art and hotels through the use of government credit cards which are used across Whitehall.

The intervention has not been without risk though, after the Tories accused Labour of introducing the cards in the first place and of spending £1billion on them by 2010.

“Of course you’ve got to have procurement cards, of course government ministers and civil servants need to be able to do their job... but there are obviously egregious examples of how money is being frittered away,” she said.

She promised that Labour would set up an office for the value of money as well as conduct spot checks for compliance on those using the credit cards.

“I’m sick and tired of taxpayers being taken for a ride,” she said.

“A Labour government with me at the Treasury would put fiscal and financial responsibility at the heart of government economic policy — not frittering away taxpayer’s money like it’s confetti.”


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