Nadine Dorries Posts Report on Equatorial Guinea Trip

Amid media reports of “three Conservative MPs enjoy[ing] a £25,000 junket to Equatorial Guinea”, Nadine Dorries has finally managed to post on-line her critical account of her visit to the country in August. As was noted last week, the trip had been organised by an obscure outfit called the Triarius Foundation, which went on to produce a laughably clumsy report that praised EG’s human rights record and described free speech concerns as “trivial” complaints by “self-interested, unrepresentative, and unaccountable pressure groups”. However, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Dorries, who headed the delegation that visited the country in August 2011, was furious that the trip had been used to promote the regime. She said the report was ‘completely contrary’ to her own findings and that of the MPs who accompanied her including Steve Baker MP for Wycombe and Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North.

Unfortunately, Dorries then had technical trouble uploading a pdf of her own report, with the result that media reports of a “junket” gathered momentum; she now complains of “disappointing, inaccurate and ill informed media coverage”.

Dorries has explained her reasons for going to EG in a post at Conservative Home:

I took over leading the trip from Michael Ancram. Who for personal reasons had to stand down.  It was impossible to get even one Labour MP to agree to come, despite many being asked. A Labour Peer was due to accompany the delegation but dropped out at the last moment.

…All three of us undertook the trip with one objective in mind, to bring back an accurate impression and to do whatever we could to make any suggestion towards improving the daily lives of the small population.

To prepare for the tip, I held a meeting with the R.C.O.G  (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist) as a result of various discussions, my objective on the trip to EG was to attempt to persuade the EG Health Minister, to meet with representatives from the R.C.O. G and discuss the details of a staff training programme the R.C.O.G. deploy in developing countries…

She also gives an account of the delegation:

The MPs were joined by Iain Birrell a freelance journalist who acted ‘undercover’.  Greg Wales, who owns Triarus, the organisation acting on behalf of the EG government, Adrian Yelland [sic – actually “Adrian Yalland”] a lobbyist who co-ordinated the logistics and a theatre impresario, Giles [Ramsey] who was there to appraise the cultural aspects of EG…

Steve Baker prepared a paper to discuss with any interested Ministers the benefits of democracy and free markets.

Caroline Noakes researched Education across Africa and undertook to appraise EG Education and led the questioning of the Education Minister.

Wales’ relationship with the EG government is curious: he is a former business partner of Simon Mann, and was connected with Mann’s disastrous 2004 coup attempt.

Birrell, writing in last week’s Observer, reports that Yalland was ebullient about EG, gushing over the “fantastic infrastructure” and dismissive of “major misconceptions… over civil liberties and human rights”. This appears to be Yalland’s personal view: although he works in PR, he told the Bureau that the company he works for (Chelgate Ltd) “was not carrying out public relations work for the government of Equatorial Guinea”. It is interesting to note that Yalland is also the director of the “Right to Life” campaign, which works with Dorries to promote abortion law reform; perhaps he expected Dorries to share his perspective on other matters as well.

Dorries’ report runs to 10 pages, and consists of a mix of personal observations and general information about the country culled from other sources. The overall impression is of a corrupt dictatorship in which the majority of the population live in poverty, and suffer and die needlessly due to inadequate healthcare – there’s a particularly grim account of a visit to a hospital, “full of empty rooms with outdated, unusable equipment”, and where “the man with the key” to unlock the resuscitation rooms “could not be found”. It’s a reasonable enough account, although it doesn’t tell us anything new about the country.

The first page of Dorries’ report lists the delegation’s members and itinerary, and appears to have been based on a document provided by Triarius – the Triarius Report begins in the same way, and follows the same layout and wording. One interesting difference, though, is that the Triarius report lists former MP Rupert Allason as a member of the delegation – Allason was involved in the 2009 negotiations to free Simon Mann. Presumably he must have dropped out at some point, since Birrell doesn’t mention him either.

Dorries’ trip has been criticised by Paul Flynn MP, in a comment reported by the Telegraph:

The Labour MP Paul Flynn said the trip was “unbelievable” and that the MPs should have informed themselves about the regime of President Teodoro Obiang.

“It is monstrous naivety not to make a few basic enquiries about a regime run by someone who appears to be half way between Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun,” said Mr Flynn.

“Five minutes of research should have informed these MPs that this was not a regime with which our parliamentarians should be associating. One would have thought that recent events in Libya would remind MPs that cosying up to corrupt dictators is unwise.”

Of course, Dorries’ stated aim was to improve medical services, which in itself would be a legitimate reason for going no matter who is in charge of the country. However, one would have thought the way the visit was organised would have set off alarm bells: the trip was funded by EG via a newly-created and mostly anonymous foundation based in Malta (the Triarius website  mentions “individuals with long experience of African and Islamic States”, but only Wales is named), while logistics were coordinated by a man – personally known to Dorries from other contexts – who from Birrell’s account was bubbling over with enthusiasm for how the country is run.

Steve Baker MP, meanwhile, told the paper that

 “I received a call from Nadine Dorries asking me if I wanted to join the delegation and I thought it would be useful to get an idea of how Equatorial Guinea worked and see if I could do some good. Quite honestly, I wish I hadn’t gone. The country is governed extremely badly.”

UPDATE (7 December): Dorries’ account also makes the point that:

The trip was undertaken with the knowledge and encouragement of the foreign office and since our return we have debriefed the Minister.

The latest Private Eye (1303, p. 9) has a bit more background on that:

When the unsavoury regime of Equatorial Guinea offered to receive a delegation of Tory MPs last summer, Henry Bellingham, Foreign Office (FCO) minister with responsibility for Africa , was curiously keen for the visit to go ahead and tried to get his department to support it.

According to emails released to Private Eye under the freedom of information act, however, FCO officials were reluctant to offer any diplomatic backing…. But why, as the emails show, was Bellingham so keen to encourage his fellow Tory MPs to go there in the first place?

…Bellingham knows Allason and, with Wales, has a mutual friend in… coup leader Simon Mann, another new-found friend of Obiang’s. Surely the ties of friendship cannot have coloured the judgement of a minister of the crown?

UPDATE 2 (27 December): In the Independent, Whitehall editor Oliver Wright reports that public acrimony has now broken out between Wales and the MPs:

Mr Wales added that there had been one successful element to this trip. “The most useful thing was to prove that you can take a bunch of British MPs to Equatorial Guinea and come back with the same number of body parts which you left with.” He added: “They were rather rude about their hosts when they got back – that was just bad manners.

The most irritating aspect is the things they could have done – actually give the Foreign Office some useful information and insights; assist UK businesses and individuals who work there or plan to; impress a government that has surprising clout and is very close to other places that matter a lot to the UK – for example Nigeria – with their gravitas.

“Once back they opted for playground name-calling. They come across as a bunch of vacuous, ignorant, ill-bred oiks. The Equatorial Guinea government was deeply unimpressed with the quality of our parliamentarians.”

Wales was expecting gravitas from Dorries? Seriously?

Meanwhile:

Ms Dorries said: “Mr Wales was pushing a sugary, sickly-sweet view about how wonderful everything was in Equatorial Guinea. At even the slightest criticism he became bad-tempered. We decided to be polite, diplomatic and keep our powder dry. We wrote what we found in our report and have now raised our concerns about Equatorial Guinea. We believe we were right to go to see for ourselves what life is like in the country and report back in a fair and balanced way and that is what we have done.”

The report makes no reference to Chelgate or to Adrian Yalland.

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  1. […] Dorries Posts Report on Equatorial Guinea Trip, Richard Bartholomew, Bart’s Notes on Religion. Report/analysis of Tory MPs’ junket to Equatorial Guinea organised by the Triarius […]

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