By Christopher Hope | Telegraph.co.uk
ON THE WEB, 3 December 2012
David Cameron banned all contact with the Dalai Lama during crunch talks with Chinese Government over Euro bailout package earlier this year, leadked documents show.
The “blanket prohibition” on meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader — imposed by the Prime Minister’s team during crisis talks over Eurozone countries at a meeting of G20 countries — prompted a fierce backlash from ministers.
The ministers — Tim Loughton and Norman Baker — were barred from attending a private lunch with the Tibetan spiritual leader in the apartment of the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow minutes before it was due to start.
The pair then wrote to the Prime Minister to protest after the “deeply embarrassing” incident in June this year, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Channel Four Dispatches programme.
Mr Loughton told the programme that he and Mr Baker had originally been cleared to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to the UK between 14 and 23 June this year.
The pair had been given the green light to attend the lunch on 20 June — Mr Baker is honorary president of the Tibet Society and Mr Loughton is a member of the Tibet Society council.
But on the eve of the lunch, Mr Loughton said “I had a whole barrage of calls. I’d made myself scarce in my office and the Department of Education were fielding most of these calls”.
Many of the calls were from officials travelling with Mr Cameron in Cancun, Mexico at the G20 summit, he said. The pair were determined to go.
But the then-foreign minister Jeremy Browne intervened, telling moments that they could not attend moments before it was due to begin.
Mr Loughton said: “I can only presume that given I myself and Norman Baker were both ministers it would be in some way have been seen as some Government support for the Dalai Lama if we were to go and have lunch with him.”
The pair wrote a private letter to Mr Cameron in July which they strongly protested about the way they had been muzzled, and complained about the “tremendous pressure put upon each of us at the 11th hour not to attend”.
The letter, copied to Foreign secretary William Hague and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said: “We feel we have to write to you to express our concern and annoyance with regard to the inflexible instruction given last week to ministers, prohibiting any contact whatsoever with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the UK.”
They said they could not understand how the Government could impose a “blanket prohibition on a minister meeting a religious leader in private in a non-ministerial capacity and we think this crossed a line.
“Our absence from this small private lunch is deeply embarrassing for us in terms of our longstanding Tibetan connections, and will have been registered by the Speaker, to whom we were obliged to offer late apologies, and doubtless will not have passed unnoticed by others.”
The pair said they felt British policy over China was “tantamount to saying that British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be.
“It completes ignores the fact his Holiness is a spiritual leader only and no longer holds a political position and is frankly just plain wrong.”
The row took place as China was in talks about offering £27billion, into a fighting fund expected to be used up by the International Monetary Fund to bail out Eurozone economies.
An earlier high profile meeting in May between the Dalai Lama, Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg went down badly in Beijing, which urged the UK to “stop conniving at and supporting” Tibetan separatist attempts.
Mr Loughton was sacked as a minister in the September reshuffle while transport minister Mr Baker is still in post. Mr Baker declined to comment.
A Government spokesman said: “The Dalai Lama was due to visit the United Kingdom twice in quick succession earlier this year. The Chinese Government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama.
“We made clear in advance to the Chinese Government that British Ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them – irrespective of Chinese lobbying.
“It was never intended that any Minister would meet the Dalai Lama on his second visit. We are committed to striking a balance between taking a clear position on Tibet, and sustaining broad-based engagement with the Chinese Government.
“It is only through engaging China that we can help bring about positive change to human rights in China.”