Tory tangle: Sri Lanka satisfied with Conservative clarification?

A contentious reference to Sri Lanka in the election manifesto of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party resulted in much confusion yesterday, with Government MP Udaya Gammanpila and others accusing the party of challenging Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity.

The reference is as follows:

“We will continue to support international initiatives to achieve reconciliation, stability and justice across the world, and in current or former conflict zones such as Cyprus, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, where we maintain our support for a two-state solution.”

The problematic wording of the line, particularly the absence of an Oxford comma, has led to the inference that Sri Lanka is included in former conflict zones for which the Tories support a two-state solution.

MP Gammanpila, writing to Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena yesterday, noted that the manifesto was published over a week ago and Sri Lanka’s High Commission to the UK has remained mum about what was a clear challenge to the country’s territorial integrity.

Offering a clarification today, the Ministry of Foreign Relations said the High Commission of Sri Lanka in the UK, in consultation with the Ministry, has already made representations to Conservative Party Co-Chair James Cleverly on the matter.

High Commissioner Manisha Gunasekara, the Ministry said in a media statement today, wrote to Cleverly on 27 November that the reference to Sri Lanka as a country which requires a two-state solution was unacceptable. Pointing out that no party in the UK has ever been of that position, Gunasekara requested that the paragraph be suitably amended to accurately reflect the Conservatives’ position on Sri Lanka.

Subsequent to the representations made, the Ministry said, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Paul Scully had issued the following clarification:

“The party’s position regarding Sri Lanka has not changed… To be absolutely clear, the two-state line in the section was intended to refer only to the Israel-Palestine situation in the Middle East (as is stated policy). The Commitments to Sri Lanka and Cyprus were simply about continuing existing efforts to support peace and reconciliation in divided societies.”

UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Theresa Villiers, meanwhile, said on her official Facebook page that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had confirmed to her that the contentious phrase did, in fact, only apply to the Middle East.

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There has been some misunderstanding regarding page 53 of the Conservative manifesto. The following clarification has…

Posted by Theresa Villiers on Saturday, November 30, 2019

A position reiterated by Scully on Twitter.

Back in Colombo, it appears that the Government is satisfied with the above clarifications.

“The Ministry of Foreign Relations is of the view that the above would clarify the position of the Conservative party on the issue as well as action taken by the Ministry and the High Commission in London to correct the distortion,” the Ministry said in its statement.

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