Questions over Commons committee chair’s involvement with Tories’ new China Research Group

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA. - Credit: PA

A senior Tory's decision to chair the new China Research Group alongside the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) has raised questions about its compatibility.

The China Research Group (CRG) was formed to pressure the leadership of the Conservative Party and the government over UK relations with China after allegations the country had tried to cover up the coronavirus outbreak.

Tory MPs have based the creation on the influential European Research Group of the party's Brexiteer MPs, which managed to influence government thinking on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

At present just eight MPs are listed on its website as founding members, including former David Cameron advisor Laura Trott and new 'red wall' MP Dehenna Davison.

The CRG is to be chaired by senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, already chair of the FAC, with expert opinion warning the decision to head up the forum is likely to affect his committee work.

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Dr James Strong, a senior lecturer in British Politics and Foreign Policy, pointed to evidence to suggest Tugendhat's views were already impacting the committee.

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Last year it published a critical report recommending the government adopt a more cautious approach to China.

'Many of the points raised prefigured CRG claims,' Strong noted.

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He continued: 'There clearly is a risk associated with Tugendhat's taking on the CRG role.

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'If other MPs come to see the FAC as merely the outgrowth of a Conservative Party faction, its wider influence will decline. It might also become harder to get consensus among committee members.'

But Strong also noted that Tugendhat's association could increase influence of the committee by making it more relevant to backbenchers, which in turn can change thinking at the top of government.

The expert references a Spectator column which notes that 'hawkishness on China is going to be one of the issues that binds together the new Tory electoral coalition' of old and new MPs.

He said: 'If Tugendhat plays a leading role in this development, it potentially makes the FAC look more relevant to government backbenchers.'

Strong added: 'In launching the CRG, Tugendhat is taking a different path – as a specialist policy advocate, not a party loyalist or a minister-in-waiting,' he said.

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