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‘Ambitious’ Gavin Williamson criticised for having ‘oversold’ UK capabilities in China row | Politics News



Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been criticised for risking trade talks with China by announcing the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Pacific region.

The “ambitious” cabinet minister was accused of having “oversold” the capability of HMS Queen Elizabeth this week, when he announced the carrier’s first operational mission.

Mr Williamson revealed on Monday the £6.2bn craft will head to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region, which includes the Spratly Islands where China holds disputed territorial claims.

The defence secretary claimed British and American F35 fighter jets on board HMS Queen Elizabeth would enhance “the reach and lethality of our forces”.

But, his announcement is reported to have prompted Chinese vice premier Hu Chunhua to cancel trade talks with Chancellor Philip Hammond this weekend.

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, characterised Mr Williamson as a “very enthusiastic individual” who is taking his government role “seriously”.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show: “I think we all know he’s pretty ambitious as well and wants to use defence as a platform to develop his own career.

More from Gavin Williamson

“I’m afraid a number of politicians do that.

“He’s also recognised, quite correctly, we do not spend enough on defence in this country.”

Philip Hammond
Philip Hammond is reported to have cancelled a trip to China

But, Lord Dannatt also claimed Mr Williamson was “premature” in boasting of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first mission.

“Was he right to say we’re going to send our aircraft carrier off to the Spratly Islands?” he added.

“To be honest, I don’t think he is.

“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 then use it responsibly.

“Just because we’ve got it, doesn’t mean to say we use it.

“Most defence capabilities we hold in readiness for something that really demands them to be used.

“We don’t just use it or send it, because we can. I think he may have actually 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, that’s a bad diplomatic move and I think Gavin’s got that one wrong.”

Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne accused Mr Williamson of “engaging of gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind”.

“I think it’s very difficult to work out what the British government’s China policy is at the moment,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster.

The Sun reported 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.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “The chancellor is not travelling to China at this time. No trip was ever announced or confirmed.”

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