In April, Ed Davey talked to Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and Secretary of the Tunbridge Wells local party, Marguerita Morton, about green growth and his new role as patron of the Chinese Lib Dems. Over Zoom, Sir Ed explained how the UK must stand up for the rights of Hong Kong’s people and fight coronavirus-driven spikes in anti-Chinese racism at home.
Sir Ed would uphold the recommendations of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in March 2019 to monitor and take appropriate measures, for any unwarranted excessive force and erosion of autonomy, rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Joint Declaration and Basic Law. He also deplored the arrests of the 15 lawmakers against the background of the Coronavirus pandemic together with any calls for pressure on the Hong Kong judiciary or on legislators. In order to resolve the crisis of confidence of the HK people in its administration, we must call on China to uphold the “one country, two systems” rule enshrined in the Basic Law.
What are the UK’s prospects for green growth?
I asked Sir Ed about how he sees the future economy, and his role when he was in the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change,
Sir Ed said: “To pull out of this Covid recession, we need a recovery that is sustainable and low carbon. Thanks largely to Liberal Democrats in the Coalition, the UK has made progress in the transition to a greener economy but there’s still huge amounts to do, and it’s urgent. Policies I introduced helped nearly quadruple the UK’s renewable power and made us the global leader in offshore wind power. So domestically we can do this.
“But we must also work internationally on climate change. The Green Growth Group I set up in th European Union when I was Climate Change Minister led the way to the EU’s Heads of State signing an agreement on very ambitious 2030 climate targets in October 2014. This pushed the USA and China to do more and a month later they signed a Joint Communiqué, and that created the vital momentum for the UN to get the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.
“Working with China on climate change is vital, given they are inevitably the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China has done more than many people realise on decarbonisation and on trips to China and at UN meetings, I met senior Chinese politicians who seemed committed to tackling climate change. China’s lead in the global solar industry has helped the world and seems to have convinced many in Beijing that they can afford to be less reliant on dirty coal in the future.
I was involved in the early negotiations over the new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point C in Somerset, which of course has Chinese investment.
Decarbonising through nuclear power can help, though as has been clear for a long time, nuclear power is very expensive (and is now more expensive than renewables, thanks to Lib Dem policies on wind and solar power!) One of my main contributions in the Hinckley Point C negotations was to structure the deal so British consumers are protected if costs overrun on that nuclear power station, as they already have! I also legislated to ensure the nuclear regulator is totally independent, to guard against political pressures.
You have recently become patron of our Associate Organisation, the Chinese Lib Dems, which was established to form close links between the party and Chinese communities wherever they live in the UK. What are your priorities as new patron?
I want to work closely with Chinese Lib Dems and get their advice on how best for the Lib Dems to engage with the Chinese community to encourage their political participation and to promote more elected Chinese Lib Dem MPs and councillors. I believe that this can be done through mentoring and gaining the trust of the Chinese community - but I’d welcome advice.
In the UK, the coronavirus crisis has led to some worrying actions taken against people in our Chinese community. We must tackle discrimination against people of Chinese descent - and indeed, any minority groups by early intervention. The police have to take hate crimes seriously. Such racism is based on ignorance - and in recent times, social media has been used to promote far right as well as nationalist views. We have to make common cause with progressive politicians who, like us, will stand up against prejudice.
Now is the time to act decisively to combat hatred and racism in all its forms. We cannot let populism or nationalism take over. The Liberal Democrats will always fight for freedom, fairness, and equality for people of all races and ethnicities in the UK.
What about the UK’s relations with China?
Relations with China need to be as cordial as possible, though they should never prevent the UK raising key issues we care about.
I developed good relations with Chinese Ministers during my period as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and felt the environment was an area we could deepen co-operation on, from climate change to cutting air pollution in cities. And it’s obvious that trade and investment co-operation between the UK and China will be increasingly important, as will co-operation on health and biosecurity.
But whether it’s standing up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, enshrined in the Basic Law, or raising wider issues on human rights, Liberal Democrats and Britain must not be silenced on key issues of principle.
I do deeply regret Britain leaving the European Union for many reasons, including the reduction in our influence in China. With our European neighbours we were a bulwark for peace and security against the increasing tensions between the US and China. We need Britain and the EU to help bridge this divide.
Councillor for St.John’s Ward, Tunbridge Wells
Executive Member of the Chinese Lib Dems