With a stiff-board back and a pronounced tone of defiance, Dominic Raab announced to the Commons he was ripping up the United Kingdom’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong ‘immediately and indefinitely’.
How he almost savoured those two words. Martial arts expert Mr Raab was in tough-guy mode.
Black belt time. He wore that intense glare which reminds you of a character from a 1970s chop-socky movie. Once again, the Foreign Secretary was flicking an upturned digit towards Beijing over its recent behaviour in Hong Kong.
Time was that when the UK wished to rattle tea cups in the Far East we used to send a gun boat. Things are little different now of course. But the forcefulness of Raab’s language was still striking.
With a stiff-board back and a pronounced tone of defiance, Dominic Raab announced to the Commons he was ripping up the United Kingdom’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong ‘immediately and indefinitely’
On Hong Kong, his message to Beijing’s top brass was blunt: ‘The UK is watching. The whole world is watching.’
Murmurs of approval that greeted Raab’s statement were slow and steady. Like a rolling, gurgling growl. Think an V8 motorcar with the choke cylinder pulled out full.
There had been much talk recently about Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s high standing around Westminster. But Raab too is on a good run. His response to the Hong Kong crisis has sent his stock soaring. There is a twinkle about him. He is enjoying being Foreign Secretary. For a while, Labour MPs would try and goad him. His slightly inclement temperament made him an easy target for jibes. But these days they’re happy to ride on his coat tails.
Raab’s opposite number Lisa Nandy said she ‘strongly welcomed’ his announcement, even so far as offering him ‘warm’ thanks.
SNP spokesman Alyn Smith also welcomed Raab’s tone, agreeing that despite everything he also wanted a relationship with Beijing as it was key partner with Scotland in renewable energy. From what I’m told, it’s also a big purchaser of much of his best whisky.
‘His response to the Hong Kong crisis has sent his stock soaring. There is a twinkle about him. He is enjoying being Foreign Secretary,’ says Henry Deedes
As support for Raab’s statement arrived from all sides, much focus was given to the plight of the Uyghur Muslims said to be under persecution in China’s western region.
Shocking footage had been aired on Andrew Marr’s Sunday programme which appeared to show Uyghurs being herded onto trains to internment camps in the Xinjiang province. Neil O’Brien (Con, Harborough) said the images, as well reports of the Chinese selling off the hair of Uyghurs, bore chilling echoes of the 20th century’s most despicable events.
Nus Ghani (Con, Wealden) wanted to know whether, since UN wa ht be able to carry out its own investigation to see whether genocide had taken place. Raab patiently pointed out that getting access to Xinjiang might just be a bit tricky.
There was an interesting legal query raised by Craig Mackinlay (Con, South Thanet), who was concerned that, under its new law in Hong Kong, China might be able to extradite an individual from the UK via another country with which we hold a treaty. Raab was confident we had safeguards to mitigate against such circumstances.
Police detain a protester during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Yet some members felt that Raab had been too diplomatic in his statement about some of the world. Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) pondered whether it was time to admit that ‘the China we hoped for was not the China we’re getting’.
Graham Stringer (Lab, Blackley and Broughton) agreed Raab was being far ‘too optimistic’ in hoping Beijing might just suddenly fall into line. Tobias Ellwood (Con, Bournemouth E) went even further by saying it was time to ‘stop the pretence’ that China shared our values. He thought it high time for a ‘strategic overhaul’ in our foreign policy approach towards Beijing.
Raab gently noted that Ellwood had been a junior Foreign Office minister himself but for some years and had never expressed such a view. Perhaps it was his good natured loyalty? ‘That’s probably why I’m on the backbenches,’ Ellwood replied jokily.
Today Raab will meet with US vice-president Mike Pompeo. Much to discuss on the China front.
Not least what we can expect back in terms of retaliation.