Minister who took leave of his hosts

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The Independent Online
LIKE a scene from an Ealing comedy, the defence minister stepped off the aircraft and ignored local dignitaries. He strode past a Malaysian minister and declined the offer of a Rolls-Royce by the British High Commissioner. As motor cycle outriders waited to provide an escort, he strode to the arrivals lounge and stepped into a hire car arranged by a travelling flunkey.

MPs heard yesterday that the minister, Lord Gilbert (above), drove off in a daffodil-yellow, open-top Fiat Punto. And in a scene worthy of a Peter Sellers comedy, the motor cycle escort chased after him to provide their escort. The scene painted by Tory MP and former defence adviser Crispin Blunt, left colleagues aghast.The MoD denied any insult to Malaysia. A spokesman said later that Dr Gilbert went on a day's leave when he arrived on the Malaysian island of Langkawi for an international air exhibition at the airport.

"He had 24 hours' free time before he had official engagements. He made his own arrangements and it was regarded as a very successful visit," said the spokesman.

Mr Blunt said: "It was actually very foolish. If there is one country in the world that is particularly prickly, it is Malaysia.

"This was the talk of defence companies represented out there. It was sufficiently eccentric to raise questions. There was a reception and defence industry representatives were able to reassure the Malaysian authorities that he was not being rude."