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Last-minute cancellation of British MPs' trip to Sri Lanka amidst controversy

A cross-party trip by British MPs to Sri Lanka was called off at the last minute Thursday night after Labour members of the delegation pulled out due to party pressure, reported Channel 4 News.

The all-expenses-paid trip, funded by former cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan’s charity Foundation of Goodness, would have seen MPs, and some of their partners, travel to the island for a ‘fact-finding’ visit, which would have included a meeting with senior Sri Lankan ministers and officials and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stands accused of command responsibility for war crimes.

The Labour MPs pulled out after intervention from a senior frontbencher who “strongly objected” to the visit, Channel 4 said.

That prompted the Conservative MPs to also abandon the trip.

One of the Tory MPs, Ian Liddell-Grainger, who was to travel with his wife, told Channel 4 News: "It was getting too complicated. It was going to be a [political] bun-fight. What with you lot [media] getting involved ... it was all just too much."

Unusually, the group had been planning to travel to the country without informing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka of their proposed trip, Channel 4 learnt.

A Labour Party spokesperson denied any knowledge of the trip, drawing a furious response from Laurence Robertson, the Conservative MP who would have led the group.

"I am really disgusted that they are saying this. I have their tickets!" he said, referring to the business class flights the MPs and spouses were to take.

Jan Jananayagam, from Tamils Against Genocide, told Channel 4 that the trip seemed designed to whitewash allegations of human rights violations.

"The Sri Lankan government has always used cricket and its leading cricketers, particularly Murali, because of his Tamil origins, to whitewash the allegations against of it mass atrocities. It would seem this proposed trip was no exception," she said.

"Any visit would need to be arranged via a third party beholden to the government," she added, referring to growing controversy over British MPs' government-funded trips to the country.

The Labour MPs to go on the week-long trip are Stephen Hepburn, also shadow minister for equalities, and Sharon Hodgson, whose husband was to accompany her.

The Conservative and Labour MPs were to be joined by Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley Jr and his wife, who were to travel separately for a 10-day stay in Sri Lanka.