The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has backed the Foreign Secretary’s position on international trade, saying that it is “right” for the UK to be trading widely even with countries with poor human rights records.
Speaking to Sky News (March 17), the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy argued that the government ought to be “flexible” on trade, before adding that the UK can’t refuse to trade with other states "while telling them how to run their own countries”.
Insistent on maintianing stable trading relations with China, Mr. Kwarteng claimed there were “serious issues” with the country’s record but argued there was a difference between the country’s government and private Chinese investment.
Previously, a leaked audio clip - recorded during Raab’s session with staff in his department - showed the Foreign Secretary telling officials the UK should strike deals with nations that do not meet European standards on human rights.
Raab was recorded as satying that “If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level [European Convention on Human Rights] standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future”.
Raab's position was immediately criticized by Amnesty International UK, which said his comments are part of a “depressing pattern on human rights from this Government”.
The Foreign Secretary also faced backlash from the Labor party over his secret remarks.
Labor said the comments exposed the “shameful truth” and stressed that the prospect of offering preferential trade terms to China was an “abomination”.
In addition, Lisa Nandy, Labor’s shadow Foreign Secretary, said that “secretly talking up the prospects of trade deals with countries with appalling human rights completely undermines this government’s public commitments”, before adding that UK’s words are not matched by actions.
Raab and Kwarteng’s relatively mild position on China comes on the heels of the UK’s official assessment of China in the Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy as constituting “the greatest state-based threat” to British national security.
It remains to be seen if in the weeks and months ahead British goverment officials slowly row back on the tough anti-Chinese stance set out in the Integrated Review.