Senior Conservatives call for defence minister to be reined in after upset in Beijing over his comments

The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, was at the centre of a growing cabinet row on Saturday night as senior government sources blamed him for offending the Chinese and causing the cancellation of a crucial trade visit to Beijing by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

Senior Conservatives said it was time to rein in Williamson, who has earned the nickname Private Pike in Whitehall after a series of gaffes. Treasury insiders said comments the defence secretary had made in a speech last week about sending the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific had caused such “clear irritation” in Beijing that the trip scheduled for this weekend could not take place.

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