Yesterday, it was the Chinese ambassador threatening Theresa May over Hinkley point. Today, it’s Lord Mandelson’s turn. The Labour grandee said that for the Prime Minister to ‘stretch out’ the Hinkley hold-up any further than the end of September ‘would be a mistake’. What was remarkable about Mandelson’s warning on Today just now was its similarity to that issued by China’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming. Xiamong didn’t mention the ‘B’ word – Brexit – but it was the elephant in his piece in the FT yesterday when he suggested that at such a ‘historical juncture’ Britain needed China. Mandelson went somewhat further to say the referendum was an important factor in May’s decision and that post-Brexit Britain was ‘not in the happiest position’. He said our position in relation to China was ‘invidious’ and Mandelson also indicated that the UK was ‘probably less relevant’ to China outside the EU but also ‘more dependent on China’s goodwill because we’ll need to replace trade lost in Europe’. So Mandelson’s vision of Britain’s predicament, whilst laden with doom-mongering, was at least clear: May needs to give the green light to Hinkley Point, or China will force us to pay the price. And post-Brexit, we can’t take that risk, he said.
So what about the security concerns which are widely-believed to have caused the delay? Mandelson said they provided a ‘natural pause for thought’ but just as readily wiped those worries aside. In Mandelson’s view, there was a ‘very low likelihood’ that China would mess around and use the plant to compromise British security (just as well, given the ramifications if they did), going on to suggest it would be commercial and global ‘suicide’ for China to have anything other than above board intentions in investing in Hinkley. This argument is nothing new from Mandelson – he made much the same point last year when GCHQ sought reassurance over the deal. But his warning to Theresa May is something different and he didn’t pull his punches in suggesting what he thinks May should do next over Hinkley: you’ve got a difficult enough job with Brexit, he warned, don’t make it worse by alienating China.