Former minister hits out at No 10 over Sisi visit
Crispin Blunt, a former minister and current chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the human rights record of President Sisi’s regime meant it was not “appropriate” for him to come to Britain.
The Prime Minister will host President Sisi, who came to power in 2013 after the military displaced Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, at Downing Street later today.
Jeremy Corbyn has already accused David Cameron of “contempt for democracy” through his invitation.
Mr Blunt told the Commons today that he accepted that “practical engagement” with Egypt was necessary and that diplomacy required “ugly compromises” with British values, but made clear he did not support the visit.
“Some would claim that in 2013 the then-general Sisi and the military reclaimed stability and security for Egypt in the way that they removed President Morsi and his administration from office, but no one should be in any doubt at what the price has been,” Mr Blunt said.
“Possibly thousands of people were killed when the squares were cleared; 40,000 are in prison; we’ve seen death penalties be handed out in batches of several hundreds; and many of us will have had first-hand testimony of people being tortured in the Egyptian justice system.
“And I’m not entirely sure that inviting President Sisi to the United Kingdom is necessarily wholly appropriate at this time, until these issues are properly addressed and there is some accountability for the conduct of the operation of 2013 and the conduct of policy since.”
He added that President Sisi’s crackdown on opposition could “have the effect of widening the insurgency they face and the support for the most extreme forms of Islamist jihadism”.
FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood said many members of Mr Blunt’s own committee would be uncomfortable with his assessment of President Sisi.
“I hope he does speak as an individual and not as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee because I’m not sure that they would be in synergy with everything he said,” Mr Ellwood said.
The minister also dismissed a report that the Foreign Office had raised concerns about the visit but had been overruled by Downing Street, saying the FCO was “very much in support” of the trip.
Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth, who chairs the APPG on Egypt, said he disagreed with Mr Blunt and “warmly welcomed” President Sisi to the UK.
HUMAN RIGHTS PRIORITY
The comments came in at an Urgent Question granted to Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake ahead of the meeting between Mr Cameron and President Sisi.
Mr Brake cited comments from FCO permanent under-secretary Sir Simon McDonald suggesting human rights were not a “top priority” for the department.
“The UK government’s position on human rights appears to be weakening,” he said. “Will the minister take this opportunity to confirm that the UK government is not downgrading human rights in favour of trade?”
Mr Ellwood said that there was no binary choice being made between prosperity and human rights.
“It is now our view that we raise human rights as a matter of course,” he responded.
“It’s not instead of; it’s part of the package, it’s part of the process... We raise these matters. It is part of the broad-brush of areas of concern that we raise, not just the prosperity agenda as well.”