Philip Hammond slaps down Defence Secretary in Tory Cabinet spat over China
Philip Hammond was forced to scrap a trip to China after gaffe-prone Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed a plan to deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth to the volatile region
Two top Tories are at war over sending a Royal Navy aircraft carrier to the Pacific.
Chancellor Philip Hammond was forced to scrap a trip to China after gaffe-prone Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed a plan to deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth to the volatile region armed with two squadrons stealth fighter jets.
The announcement enraged Beijing, which reportedly pulled out of planned trade talks with the Chancellor, leading him to axe his visit.
Mr Hammond admitted the Anglo-Sino relationship “hasn’t been made simpler” by his Cabinet colleague’s plan.
Slapping down his successor as Defence Secretary, he told the BBC: “It is a complex relationship and it hasn’t been made simpler by Chinese concerns about Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea.”
He poured cold water on the planned voyage, suggesting no decision had been made, a mission was not imminent - and the deployment was not even up to the Defence Secretary.
Claiming the Chinese reaction was “entirely premature”, Mr Hammond added: “The aircraft carrier is not going to be at full operational readiness for another couple of years.
“No decisions have been made or even discussed about where its early deployments might be - and when those decisions are made, they will be made in the National Security Council.”
Asked if Mr Williamson should be reined in, the Chancellor said: “I think that it’s very important that we manage this relationship with China very carefully.”
Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea as tensions mount in the region.
But the UK is desperate to forge stronger trade links with country as Brexit looms.
British exports to and imports from China hit a record high in 2017.
China was the UK’s sixth largest export market that year, worth £22.3billion pounds and its fourth largest import market, worth £45.2billion, according to the House of Commons Library.