The Foreign Office reacted with horror last night to signals that the European Union wants to lift the travel ban on Robert Mugabe and his closest allies.
Senior sources in the department insisted that Britain's borders would remain closed to the 88-year-old Zimbabwean president.
"That would be awful," a Foreign Office source told i. "I don't think that he or his people will be visiting Britain any time soon – he has burnt his bridges as far as this country is concerned. The idea of him shaking hands with the Queen is appalling. He has shown no sign of contrition for his many misdemeanours."
EU officials are considering easing sanctions on the Mugabe regime – first imposed in February 2002 after the head of an observer mission to the presidential election was expelled – in an effort to persuade it to stage free and fair elections.
Under the plan, they would be lifted if Mugabe agreed a series of moves to end internal repression in the southern African state, including the adoption of human rights protections, the publication of a new constitution and the guarantee of free elections in 2013.
Under the terms of a deal setting up Zimbabwe's power-sharing administration, its government is committed to holding fresh elections next year. Despite his advanced years, Mugabe has said he would stand as president.
Previous elections have been marred by violence, intimidation and allegations of vote-rigging: Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party was widely accused of "stealing" the previous election in 2008.
It is understood that a new constitution could be issued within weeks, encouraging suggestions in Brussels that the sanctions could be eased in an attempt to help draw Zimbabwe into the world community.
Talks are planned over whether to approve the move – although it is widely felt that it cannot be agreed without Britain's approval.
The hostility of the UK Government to any initiative to ease the international pressure on Mugabe suggests that is unlikely and the Foreign Office believes it would be hard to extend an olive branch to Zimbabwe until Mugabe has either stepped down or died.
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