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Why does the Tory MP for Stockton care so much about Sri Lanka?

The Independent have released a report questioning why Conservative backbench MP James Wharton, whose constituency has neither a significant Tamil nor Sinhala community, has travelled to Sri Lanka four times in nine months and made some controversial statements in Parliament defending Sri Lanka’s actions at the end of the war.

See here for full report.

Extracts reproduced below:

 “Questioned by The Independent over the level of his involvement in Sri Lanka affairs, Mr Wharton said: “I am very much not… the Sri Lankan government’s cheerleader.””

“Mr Wharton spoke out during a Parliamentary debate on Sri Lanka in February this year, saying that a report by a United Nations panel of experts, which detailed allegations of human rights violations by the Sri Lanka government and the rebel Tamil Tigers during the civil war, should be treated with caution. “Is it not clear that, while the report sets out a narrative and raises legitimate concerns, it must not be taken as a factual account?” he asked.”

“Asked about the frequency of his visits to Sri Lanka and the country’s High Commission in London he said: “I don’t think it’s disproportionate or unreasonable, no.””

“Mr Wharton said he had travelled to Sri Lanka with International Alert in March because “I felt it was important to go with other organisations and not be seen to be in the pocket of one side or the other”. The trip was jointly arranged with the Royal Commonwealth Society – which has Christopher Nonis, the Sri Lanka High Commissioner to the UK, as its deputy chairman.”

“Mr Wharton’s interest in Sri Lanka echoes that of the former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who was a frequent visitor to the country despite having no obvious responsibilities for it. Dr Fox was forced to call off one visit to Colombo in late 2010 after his controversial assistant Adam Werritty had already flown on ahead amid reported concerns from the Foreign Office.”

“But John Mann, a Labour MP who has also travelled to Sri Lanka with the Royal Commonwealth Society, said the country still had “huge human rights problems” and that Mr Wharton had become too close to the government:

“There’s a reason why he has been invited so many times by the Sri Lankan government, paid for by the Sri Lankan government so many times and that they are wining and dining him so often at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London. This is not a very effective use of parliamentary time and he’s going to have difficulty explaining it to his constituents.””

James Wharton MP said in Parliament after his trip to Sri Lanka:

“The Sri Lankan Government launched a campaign to bring the civil war to an end – an effective but ruthless military campaign of the sort necessary to put down an organisation such as the LTTE using military means."