“One minute I’m taking the children to school, the next I’m being singled out by a communist superpower!": Harborough MP named on China's 'sinister' sanctions list

Neil O’Brien is one of nine people named on a bizarre list by China after he helped shine a light on their human rights violations

Friday, 26th March 2021, 1:24 pm
Neil O’Brien is one of nine people named on a bizarre list by China after he helped shine a light on their human rights violations

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien is being backed to the hilt by Prime Minister Boris Johnson today as he was suddenly hit with hardline sanctions by China – and banned from going there.

Neil said he welcomed winning the unequivocal support of the country’s premier as he was one of nine British people and four institutions targeted by the “communist superpower”.

Beijing has acted four days after the UK, US, Canada and the European Union slapped sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the country's autonomous north-west territory Xinjiang.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is also among those punished by China.

Throwing his weight behind Neil O’Brien and fellow citizens sanctioned, Boris Johnson said today: “The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims.

“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”

This afternoon Neil, the MP for Harborough since 2017, told the Harborough Mail: “It’s excellent to get the full support of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“I really welcome the fact that Boris is standing four square behind me and my colleagues.”

The Conservative MP, who helped to set up the Parliamentary China Research Group last year, added: “It’s been an unusual morning to say the least.

“One minute I’m taking the children to school, the next I’m being singled out by an increasingly unpredictable communist superpower!

“But the very fact that China is taking this action against us underlines every point we’ve been making for the last year or so.

“This is the first time that MPs have ever been sanctioned like this.

“That just goes to show how extraordinary this action is,” insisted Neil, who lives near Market Harborough.

“The brutal Chinese regime is clearly very rattled.

“And so they are trying to rattle the cages of every one that they can to get back at us.

“It’s a huge mistake on their part.

“I certainly didn’t plan to visit China anyway – and good luck to them seizing my assets over there because I haven’t got any.

“But seriously this is a very sinister, scary move.

“The Chinese have kidnapped two brilliant Canadian journalists, among others, over there – they’ve just disappeared.

“I don’t care if they try to intimidate or bully me in a bid to keep my mouth shut because they’ll never succeed.

“But they are also trying to frighten and pressurise UK and western businesses, both big and small.

“The way they are treating and abusing the Uyghur Muslims is just evil.

“Most of the world united to fight and oppose apartheid in South Africa because it was plain wrong,” said Neil.

“But China’s outrageous abuse of the Uyghur Muslims is just as bad as apartheid – if not even worse.”

Neil, who helps to lead the China Research Group, also issued a full statement today on behalf of the organisation saying: “Ultimately this is just an attempt to distract from the international condemnation of Beijing's increasingly grave human rights violations against the Uyghurs.

“This is a response to the coordinated sanctions agreed by democratic nations on those responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“This is the first time Beijing has targeted elected politicians in the UK with sanctions and shows they are increasingly pushing boundaries.

“It is tempting to laugh off this measure as a diplomatic tantrum.

“But in reality it is profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping.”

He stressed: “Other mainstream European think tanks have also been sanctioned this week and it is telling that China now responds to even moderate criticism with sanctions, rather than attempting to defend its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

“As British legislators this will not actually affect us hugely, but the point of Beijing's actions is to make others feel threatened, and to have a chilling effect on business people in particular.

“The sanctions come in a week where yet more Western businesses are discovering that China is becoming a dangerous place to do business, with H&M and others facing huge financial losses because their statements supporting basic human rights have offended an increasingly nationalistic and unpredictable Communist party.

“The China Research Group has been trying to understand contemporary China better.

“One of our growing concerns has been that under Xi China has been moving away from a path of openness and cooperation and towards a path of increasing nationalism and aggression.

“This latest sinister attempt to shut down debate even within established democracies sadly just underlines those concerns.

“As so often with Beijing, these sanctions are deliberately vaguely defined.

“Depending on what they mean by sanctioning the entire China Research Group, more than 100 UK MPs who have participated in our work and events could theoretically be covered by this, including senior members of every major UK political party.”

As well as Neil, the British people targeted are:

- Lord David Alton, human rights campaigner

- Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative leader

- Tom Tugendhat, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman

- Baroness Helena Kennedy, Labour peer and barrister

- Sir Geoffrey Nice, human rights barrister and judge

- Jo Smith Finley, Newcastle University academic

- Tim Loughton, Conservative MP

- Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP

The four British institutions hit are:

- China Research Group, established by Tory MPs

- Conservative Party Human Rights Commission

- Uyghur Tribunal, independent research group

- Essex Court Chambers, legal firm