Rishi Sunak has called last orders on the UK government’s cosy relationship with China.
The UK needs to “evolve our approach” to China, he declared at the sumptuous Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall in the City of London.
The so-called “golden era” is over, he said, “along with the naive idea that trade would lead to social and political reform”.
Naive? That sounded like a pretty scathing attack on David Cameron and George Osborne. It was Mr Cameron, after all, who took President Xi to a country pub near Chequers during a state visit in 2015.
Not long after the two leaders supped pints in The Plough at Cadsden in Buckinghamshire the pub was bought by a Chinese firm. Presumably not what Mr Cameron had in mind for boosting UK-Chinese trade.
A bitter irony, one might say.
The term “golden era” was actually used by Mr Osborne during a visit to China in 2015, when he claimed the UK was China’s best partner in the West.
Four prime ministers later – in just seven years – Mr Sunak lambasted the Chinese in his Guildhall speech. He condemned the assault of BBC journalist Ed Lawrence and said the media and MPs must be able to highlight the crackdowns without sanction.
That included calling out abuses in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong, he added.
But it wasn’t just Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne who were derided by the current prime minister.
His rejection of “grand rhetoric” in favour of “pragmatism” could only have been directed at one ex-PM: Boris Johnson.
When he was London mayor, Mr Johnson visited China in 2013. But by the time he became PM relations had soured because of highly alarming security concerns
In the current hostile climate, there’s no chance of Mr Sunak following Mr Cameron’s example by taking President Xi to a country pub in his Yorkshire Dales constituency. Or visiting China like Mr Osborne and Mr Johnson.
Since the cosy camaraderie of pints in The Plough, the relationship between the UK and China has become a case of beer today, gone tomorrow.