Patten denounces the Tory old guard over Hong Kong

Click to follow
Chris Patten has launched a bitter attack on former colleagues and civil servants who have been critical of his role as Governor of Hong Kong and accused him of unnecessarily antagonising the Chinese government ahead of next week's handover.

In an interview with The Independent he hit out at fthe ormer prime minister and "old friend of China" Sir Edward Heath, Lord Howe, who as foreign secretary led the negotiations for Hong Kong's handover, and Sir Percy Craddock, the Foreign Office mandarin who was at the centre of China and Hong Kong policy making for almost two decades.

"I sometimes think," he said, "that one or two of my critics from the past talk as though choices which they must have known at the time weren't simple, have suddenly become black and white."

He said he was "struck by the extent to which the paucity of their arguments pushes them into questioning my motives, rather than the consequences of what I've done. I certainly don't start questioning the motives of people like Ted Heath, Geoffrey Howe and Percy Craddock in the way that they question mine."

They have accused him of grandstanding to win media popularity. "They tend to talk about Hong Kong as though it were some arcane diplomatic puzzle, instead of a real place where six and a half million people live. Why are they so disinterested in what the people who actually live in Hong Kong have to say?"

Mr Patten has maintained a diplomatic silence over Britain's failure to pursue democratic reform in previous years. He says that while he remains Governor he needs to retain this posture but warns his vow of silence will not be indefinite and gives a taste of what he will say when freed from the constraints of office.

He said ominously: "I happen to have been able to add to my prejudices on the past by having the knowledge which comes with having read most of the papers." Among the things he will talk about are the 1987 White Paper which promised elected government and ended with a decision not to have direct elections, and the period of the early Eighties when "liberal, with a small L, advocates of democracy were regarded as tantamount to enemies of the state".

As for this "this tiresome, sulphurous argument with China" over democratic reforms, the last Governor is unrepentant. "I do not believe that after Tiananmen we were ever going to be able to put forward decent arrangements for the elections because of the impact Hong Kong's reaction to Tiananmen had on the Chinese. I think the choice in those circumstances was always going to be having a row with the Chinese Communist Party or having a row with Hong Kong".

Patten interview, page 16

Hong Kong handover, page 17

Letters, page 19