By Arj Singh
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been rebuked by the former head of the army for apparently scuppering UK-China trade talks by threatening to deploy a warship to the Pacific.
General Sir Lord Dannatt said Williamson made a “bad diplomatic move” by announcing the HMS Queen Elizabeth would be sent to an area where Beijing has been involved in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Chancellor Philip Hammond was reportedly due to visit China this weekend but Beijing is said to have pulled out of trade talks after the defence secretary’s comments.
Lord Dannatt said Williamson “oversold” his idea, pointing out that the aircraft carrier was not yet ready for deployment.
“He wants to use defence as a platform to develop his own career.”
— Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) February 17, 2019
He told Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “I think actually it’s premature. The aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth is a very fine looking ship but it hasn’t got its full complement of aeroplanes yet, so let’s get the thing properly equipped, properly sorted out and use it responsibly.”
He went on: “I think he may have just oversold that one over the last few days and if it has had the disappointing effect that the chancellor’s trip to China, largely going to be talking about trade and that kind of thing, if that’s been cancelled as a result then that’s a bad diplomatic move and Gavin has got that one wrong.”
The Chancellor was expected to meet Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua, but Treasury sources said the trip was never confirmed.
It follows reports in the Sun newspaper that Hu scrapped the plans hours after Mr Williamson announced that he would be sending HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific region.
The paper said China had been expected to lift its bans on British poultry and cosmetics not tested on animals, which could have opened up access to markets worth around £10bn over five years.
But a Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Chancellor is not travelling to China at this time. No trip was ever announced or confirmed.”
A source suggested the visit would be rescheduled when possible.