By Colombo Telegraph –
Four visits in nine months and statements in the Commons on the controversial Rajapaska regime: why does the 28-year-old MP for Stockton James Wharton care so much about Sri Lanka? the UK Independent questions.
The newspaper today reported; ” In February he joined the British-educated High Commissioner Christopher Nonis to toast Sri Lanka Independence Day. In June, he met President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his visit to London to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (Wharton had also met the President in December 2010, barely six months after being elected to Parliament). In August this year he again returned to the High Commission so that Nonis could introduce him to members of the Sri Lanka Olympics team after it arrived to take part in London 2012.”
Questioned by The Independent over the level of his involvement in Sri Lanka affairs, Wharton said: “I am very much not… the Sri Lankan government’s cheerleader.”
According to the Independent Wharton said that the lack of Sri Lankans in his constituency is “an advantage” because it allows him to make an independent contribution to the debate. “It means I can take an objective view on Sri Lanka without having pressure from either of the big two diaspora communities that live in the UK.”
The Independent said that 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.
For a 28-year old backbench Tory MP it was a highlight of his young political career. James Wharton beamed for the camera as he accepted a ceremonial plate from the Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
According to the Independent, Wharton said he has made friends on both sides of Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide and that he hopes to make a contribution to building peace in a country that is still recovering from conflict. “There are areas that haven’t been resolved and areas where people have irreconcilable differences but there are a large number of areas where people could work together to make life better for the people in Sri Lanka.” 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.”
Wharton told the Independent that he wished to introduce more balance into the discussion. “I do not pretend that things are absolutely fine in Sri Lanka, it would be ridiculous to do so. But I do think that the debate we have in the UK about it is very one-sided.”
When the Independent asked about his apparent obsession with Sri Lankan affairs, Wharton said his interests were partly business-related on behalf of his constituents. “I’ve got a number of companies on Teesside that do a lot of work out there.” He declined to identify the companies.
“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.” the Independent reported.
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, the newspaper reported.
“’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,’ he said. ‘This is not a very effective use of parliamentary time and he’s going to have difficulty explaining it to his constituents.'” the Independent further reports.