Saturday 25 February 2017

Theresa May has 'general prejudice' against Chinese funding and objected to Hinkley nuclear project - former MP

Tim Ross

British Prime Minister Theresa May is no hurry to trigger Article 50. Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
British Prime Minister Theresa May is no hurry to trigger Article 50. Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable looks on after he lost his Twickenham seat to the Conservatives at Richmond Upon Thames College, Richmond. Photo : Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Theresa May holds a “general prejudice” against Chinese investment in Britain and objected to plans for the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant when she was home secretary, a former minister has suggested. 

Sir Vince Cable, who was the Liberal Democrat business secretary in the coalition, disclosed that Mrs May was “unhappy” with the “gung-ho” attitude of David Cameron and George Osborne towards Chinese involvement in major British projects. 

He recalled how Mrs May raised concerns in the Cabinet over the involvement of the Chinese in funding the proposed new nuclear project at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Two weeks after becoming Prime Minister, Mrs May's government announced it would pause the final decision on approving the deal to build Hinkley Point C, which would be Britain’s first new nuclear plant for a generation.

Downing Street has insisted that Mrs May wants to examine all of the “component parts” of the £18 billion deal with the French energy giant EDF before deciding whether to give it the green light.

However, government sources have suggested that Mrs May holds concerns over the security implications of the agreement, which would give China’s state-owned companies a 33.5 per cent stake in Hinkley Point and the opportunity to design and build a new reactor at a separate site in Essex.

Sir Vince, who served alongside Mrs May in the Cabinet throughout the 2010-2015 coalition, suggested that she had a “general prejudice against Chinese investment”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Certainly when we were in government Theresa May was quite clear she was unhappy about the rather gung-ho approach to Chinese investment that we had and that George Osborne in particular was promoting, and as I recall raised objections to Hinkley at that time.

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable looks on after he lost his Twickenham seat to the Conservatives at Richmond Upon Thames College, Richmond. Photo : Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable looks on after he lost his Twickenham seat to the Conservatives at Richmond Upon Thames College, Richmond. Photo : Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

“I, personally, am quite positive about Chinese investment in the UK and in this particular case the Chinese are not involved in the operational side of nuclear power - it’s the funding.

“But I think we have got a different prime minister with a different set of priorities and projects of this kind are going to be looked through a different filter.”

Sir Vince said the last-minute timing of the Prime Minister’s decision to delay final approval for Hinkley was “a bit clumsy”. But he said she was right to review the “massive project” and to take “a more cautious approach” to foreign take-overs of British industries.

The disclosure of Mrs May’s history of concerns follows warnings from her new chief of staff that China’s role in the nuclear plant could threaten Britain’s national security.

Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s chief of staff, warned in an article before he began working in Downing St that the Chinese could use their role in the nuclear programme to “build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain’s energy production at will”.

He said MI5 held concerns over China because Chinese intelligence services are working “against British interests at home and abroad”.

Telegraph.co.uk

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