William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, has given details of his visit to Turks and Caicos, where the government was later mired in a corruption scandal, a day after The Independent reported that he had refused to say who he met or what he did while he was on the troubled islands.
His flight to the Caribbean was paid for the Conservative Party's billionaire deputy chairman, Michael Ashcroft, who has business interests on the islands.
Two years after Mr Hague's visit, the islands' premier, Michael Misick, was removed from office and the Foreign Office reimposed direct rule on the former British colony.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Hague's office said: "William Hague made a short half-day visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands in March 2007. He had two meetings during his stay: The first with the then governor of the islands, Mr Richard Tauwhare, and the second with the then premier, Mr Misick. He discussed UK relations with the Turks and Caicos and the political situation in the islands."
Conservative sources said Mr Hague's previous reluctance to say anything about the visit was to avoid any unwanted publicity for Lord Ashcroft, who fiercely guards his privacy.
Allegations of corruption and intimidation on the islands came to light during a visit by members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee last year. The committee's report prompted the Foreign Office to intervene.
Labour MPs have questioned why Mr Hague did not uncover any information that would have led him to call for a Foreign Office inquiry into the islands' governance, as the MPs did when they visited the following year.
It is now clear that unlike the committee members, he did not meet any opposition politicians or other critics of Mr Misick's administration during his brief visit. But his statement yesterday added: "The Conservative Party takes the need for political reform in the Turks and Caicos extremely seriously. We therefore fully supported the Government's decision to take action against corruption in the Turks and Caicos and have called for urgent reform in the administration of the Islands. William Hague had a recent meeting in London with the new premier of the Islands, Mr Galmo Williams, to discuss progress towards reform."
Mr Hague's stopover on Turks and Caicos was part of a six-day tour that took in Iceland, the Falklands, Belize, Brazil and Panama. He was flown out for free by Lord Ashcroft's company, Flying Lion, but paid for his accommodation.
Michael Ashcroft was the Conservative Party's main financial backer during Mr Hague's four years as leader from 1997 to 2001, and he was nominated by Mr Hague for a peerage. He now runs Conservative Party strategy in marginal seats, and sits in on meetings in his capacity as the party's deputy chairman.Reuse content