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Editorial The new cold war is being fought at the planet's expense – MPs' panic over EVs shows it

THE summer parliamentary recess once meant “silly season” for the newspapers because there was no politics to report.

Today it is politicians themselves publicising nonsense. MPs’ scaremongering that importing electric vehicle technology from China will allow our cars to spy on us is laughable.

The gaggle of ministers and backbenchers running to the Telegraph with their national security concerns do not, of course, suggest that China’s dominant position in the renewables industry says anything positive about it.

China might be home to nearly half of all electric vehicles worldwide, two-thirds of high-speed rail, and have installed more renewable energy last year alone than the United States has done in its whole history. It might account for 60 per cent of wind power manufacturing and 75 per cent of solar.

Anything to learn from this? The advantages of economic planning? Of targeted public investment in strategic sectors?

No, the MPs show no concern with investing in the British renewables sector. Their priority is to keep China out — even if it means ditching green tech.

Rules suggesting car-dealers hit a minimum quota of 22 per cent of sales being of electric vehicles by next year should be scrapped, they say. 

Mournfully they hint that perhaps even the plan to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 must be cast aside, in case it proves a Trojan horse for Beijing.

The most reactionary wing of the Conservative Party has scented an opportunity since their Uxbridge by-election victory — assigned by both Tories and Labour to the unpopularity of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emissions zone.

The PM quickly painted himself as the champion of motorists. He trumpeted daily reliance on cars by a majority of British households as evidence that cars are fantastic, not that something needs to be done about our public transport system. Advocates of buses, trains or bicycles are ivory-tower dwelling elitists, says a man who criss-crosses England by private jet.

By the end of July the Express was reporting plans of a “major rebellion” by Tories against any phase-out for petrol and diesel cars. Back-bench MP Nick Fletcher calls low-traffic neighbourhoods a “socialist plot” — if electric cars can be depicted as a communist conspiracy, so much the better for Big Oil.

Of course, MPs are not just hyping the China threat to protect fossil fuel interests.

The new cold war is a much wider phenomenon. This is not the first time Britain has shot itself in the foot in order to “decouple” from China: in 2020 the government scrapped its agreement with Huawei to deliver 5G, a move former business secretary Vince Cable pointed out was not based on security concerns but blind obedience to the United States.

But major problems facing humanity require international co-operation — and China’s leading position in green technology makes co-operation in this field essential.

Sanctions applied to Chinese solar panel exports based on US allegations of forced labour slowed commissioning of new solar energy plants in the US by an estimated 25 per cent last year.

We are hobbling emissions reduction based on rumours — nothing more. Even the much-vaunted “spy balloon” shot down by the US earlier this year never did any spying, Washington quietly admitted a few weeks later.

In the process, we are shoring up US dominance of high-tech and digital platforms — with the transatlantic furore against TikTok being used to drive out a rare non-US-owned digital player and entrench the position of companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, which are repeatedly caught spying on their users.

The new cold war is becoming a vehicle for the right to secure liberal consent to greater censorship, a weird trade protectionism operated on behalf of a foreign government (the United States) and abandonment of environmental targets.

The left should not fall into the same trap.

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