Rishi Sunak has backtracked on a pledge made during his 2022 leadership bid to shut down 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the UK.
The retreat, first reported by TalkTV, has been criticised by more hawkish Tory backbenchers, with former prime minister Liz Truss urging him to deliver on the language he used during last summer’s contest.
In his unsuccessful campaign – before he entered No 10 after winner Ms Truss’ disastrous mini-Budget sank her short-lived premiership – Mr Sunak had promised to close all 30 of Beijing’s institutes in Britain.
And on Wednesday, the Government confirmed that a decision had been made that it would be “disproportionate” to ban the institutes.
“We are taking action to remove any Government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.
“Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.”
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith branded the Government’s stance on Beijing “fundamentally wrong”.
He told TalkTV the U-turn was like “the script writers for Yes Minister” drafting Government policy.
Meanwhile Ms Truss, who was widely expected to adopt more hardline language on China during her short-lived premiership, used a speech in Taiwan to call on Mr Sunak to “urgently” enact the policies he pledged during their leadership contest.
“He was right and we need to see those policies enacted urgently,” she said.
“The UK’s integrated review needs to be amended to state clearly that China is a threat.
“Confucius Institutes should be closed down immediately.”