Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames has defended his ‘personal’ meeting with Robert Mugabe during a visit to Zimbabwe.
Sir Nicholas was pictured in the Zimbabwean media with the President last week, who claimed there was ‘mutual readiness’ to leave behind years of conflict between his country and the UK.
The MP told the BBC he had met to reflect on his father’s role as last governor of Southern Rhodesia.
Mid Sussex Labour has criticised the visit, arguing it raised ‘moral questions’.
Discussing the visit on Radio 4, Sir Nicholas said: “I met him purely and entirely in a personal capacity. There was no-one present. It was just him and me.
“It was purely for Auld Lang Syne and I am glad I did it.”
Pam Haigh, chairman of Mid Sussex Labour said Sir Nicholas’s constituency duties should take priority over foreign visits.
She said: “Aside from the obvious moral concerns this visit raises, the people of Mid Sussex should be greatly concerned about where Sir Nicholas’ priorities lie.
“While he schmoozes dictators, Mid Sussex remains without a sixth form college, suffers a crisis in education funding and a train service barely fit for purpose.”
Sir Nicholas’s office provided a detailed statement in response to Labour.
It read: “Sir Nicholas Soames was visiting Zimbabwe at the invitation of the British Ambassador to take part in the embassy’s commemorations of the First World War, to visit the Commonwealth war graves in Harare, to meet veterans of the British Army, Navy and Air Force, to meet representatives of the farmers who have had their land confiscated, British overseas service pensioners, conservationists and the extensive DFID projects in the country.
“Sir Nicholas, at his own instigation, was able to meet President Mugabe and to do so since Sir Nicholas’s father, the late Lord Soames, had been the Governor of Southern Rhodesia and had supervised the elections and the handover 37 years ago.
“No officials were present on either side and Sir Nicholas was able to make a number of important points to Mr Mugabe about our grave concerns over many outstanding governance issues.”
The statement said the MP was working on matters such as the college and Southern Rail.