Tory MPs banned from visiting Colombo to defend SL Govt.’s actions
A group of Tory MPs of the British ruling party were banned to travel to Colombo while the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is in progress, to defend the Sri Lanka government’s actions during the war and the alleged human rights abuses according to an article published in the London Daily Telegraph last week.
According to the newspaper, the all expenses paid trip was leaked after the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, Dr. Chris Nonis publicly boasted of the move at the meeting.
The article went on to say "Many have already been on luxurious trips to Sri Lanka, some accompanied by their wives or girlfriends, after which several have made parliamentary speeches urging greater "understanding" of the circumstances surrounding the civil war.
Some were due to be in Sri Lanka this week — at the regime’s expense — but have now been banned by the Conservative Party in the wake of a Daily Telegraph investigation into their relationship with the Sri Lankan government.
They had initially been granted permission to travel, but this was abruptly withdrawn at the end of last week "on the advice of the Foreign Office" after this newspaper began making detailed inquiries.
It can now be disclosed that there is concern at the highest levels of the Government about the activities of a number of MPs.
At a meeting earlier this month, Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London, said there were 14 people "waiting to speak if they had been given the opportunity" during a debate.
According to people at the meeting, Nonis said the country had increased its supporters in Parliament from two to 14.
He said that they had "achieved things" because they had "engaged" with Parliamentarians. One Conservative MP has told The Daily Telegraph how he has been offered "whatever he wants" from the Sri Lankan government, including luxury holidays.
In May, Aidan Burley, the MP for Cannock Chase, paid an official visit there with his girlfriend. It is understood that the couple became engaged during their stay. Mr Burley was due to travel there again this week. Another MP due to go again, James Wharton, has already made two trips to the island, funded by Sri Lanka’s regime.
During a Westminster Hall debate in January, Wharton said: "I have been to Sri Lanka a number of times, and the visits are all declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
"What worries me is how much misinformation is out there about what is happening on the ground. The tone of debate in the House too often worries me, because we focus on what we can do to punish the government of Sri Lanka."
Bob Blackman MP took his wife to Sri Lanka last year, with other parliamentarians, paid for by Sri Lanka. Another Conservative MP said that he had an "open invitation" and that the Sri Lankan government had said: "You can have whatever you want."
Burley said that it was "entirely appropriate to have visited the country on a trip that has not been funded at all by British taxpayers".
Wharton said he had "declared all declarable visits in accordance with the rules". He said he had visited the country "as a guest of the government… to ensure a balanced view on all the issues". Blackman did not respond to questions.
Conservative sources confirmed that the Whips’ Office had told MPs that they could not go to Sri Lanka.
Chairman of the British-Sri Lanka Business Council, Jayampathy Perera told Sri Express that it is the common knowledge that all the countries are lobbying British parliamentarians for their advantage but it was a cardinal error by the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in London Chris Nonis to publicly boast about it.
Perera also said that it was all wrong for the High Commission to engage only with ruling party MPs neglecting the opposition Labour Party MPs. He said that Pro-LTTE Tamils living in the UK are engaging with both sets of MPs and whoever comes to power they have got the upper hand.
He said that the Sri Lanka High Commission’s wrong tactics are clearly visible as British Prime Minister David Cameron is writing to Tamil Guardian and giving interviews to Pro-LTTE Tamil Televisions but not to Sri Lanka media.
By Sujeeva Nivunhella in London