Reliance on China for crucial minerals leave the UK vulnerable, government told

LONDON, Dec 15: The UK government is “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to strengthening its supply chains of critical minerals, with an over-reliance on China leaving the UK vulnerable, members of parliament (MPs) have warned.    

Minerals, such as cobalt and lithium, are essential to modern technologies and Britain’s green transition, with vast quantities needed to produce electric car batteries and wind turbines.

The UK is almost entirely dependent on imports and the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee warned it is lagging behind other countries in scrambling to access the same limited resources.

“While our allies have built rapidly on years of preparation, the UK response has been from a standing start,” the panel said in a report.

MPs criticised successive governments for failing to recognise the importance of critical minerals to the economy and secure sufficient access to them.

They expressed concern the UK will remain dependent on China as the dominant player in the global supply chains.

Geopolitical tensions have risen dramatically in recent years, leaving the UK exposed to any moves by Beijing to restrict exports for political leverage.

Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the committee, said: “From F35 fighter jets to the batteries in our phones, critical minerals are the building blocks of many modern technologies. They are integral to everyday living, the green transition and our nation’s defence.

“But this reliance has created vulnerability – and in the race for resources the UK is falling behind. China has strategically embedded itself in the middle of the critical minerals supply chain, developing the vast majority of the world’s refining capacity.

“For three decades, we have been asleep at the wheel, repeatedly failing to recognise the importance of critical minerals and the dangers of our current reliance on autocratic countries.

“It is particularly clear that we need to confront the weakness created by our dependency on a single state – China. These minerals power modern life and if China pulls the plug, we will all pay the price.”

The government must provide industry with a coherent plan to build critical minerals resilience, or risk losing key sectors, such as automotive, MPs said.

They criticised the government’s critical minerals strategy, published in March, for lacking a sense of urgency and need for action.

Kearns said: “This is primarily about power, not trade. The supply of critical minerals is more a geopolitical issue than a geological one. The scale of the challenge ahead of us is huge, but the need to act now is undeniable.”