MPs criticise Jimmy Lai ‘pantomime trial’ as China branded ‘totalitarian’

Britain has been urged to recognise China as a “totalitarian communist state” as MPs criticised the “pantomime trial” of dissident publisher Jimmy Lai.

The UK Government has condemned the “politically motivated” prosecution of British citizen Mr Lai, 76, under a national security law imposed by China following the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton, speaking during an urgent question, told the Commons: “This pantomime trial of Jimmy Lai is just the tip of a huge iceberg of the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) industrial abuse of human rights and indifference to international rule of law.

“Today parliaments around the world are expressing their solidarity with Jimmy and the oppressed freedom-loving people of Hong Kong.

He added: “There must be consequences. It’s no good just monitoring human rights sanctions across the globe, she has had years to name some of the legal and other officials of the Chinese government who are absolutely undermining and abusing human rights as we speak.

“When are we going to see action and what is she doing to address the concerns about the continual erosion of the judicial process in Hong Kong and involvement there of British judges as well. We need action not constant warm words.”

Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the UK continues to use sanction tools at “every opportunity where evidence comes to us”.

Conservative MP Sir Julian Lewis, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, said: “How many times must a totalitarian communist state behave like a totalitarian communist state before the Government will recognise it as a totalitarian communist state?”

Ms Trevelyan replied: “I don’t quite know how to follow such an articulately put question.”

She said Sir Julian had highlighted “one of the many challenges” for those of us who want to allow other countries to uphold the values of freedom, adding: “We will continue to work with allies and partners to highlight and indeed sanction where we can, and we have the tools to do so (for) those who continue to breach those freedoms.”

Conservative MP Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) also said: “Given everything that has happened in China, including this pitiful show trial, isn’t it now time that the Government of this country develops a coherent, proper, cross-government strategy for dealing with China because it is patently lacking at the moment.”

Ms Trevelyan said the UK had set out that China’s “challenge” to both economic and global security is one they consider to be “right at the heart of the challenges we face”, adding work is ongoing with allies.

Earlier, Ms Trevelyan said: “The issue of Jimmy Lai and others held in this way are very much at the top of my agenda, always have been and always will remain so.

“I have met Sebastien Lai on a number of occasions this year, working closely with him and his team to both understand and to look for the support we can provide, the frustration being, of course, we are unable to provide consular access because we are not allowed to visit him in prison.

“The Foreign Secretary, as I set out and he set out, yesterday called for his release and we will continue to sustain that throughout the trial.”