Gordon Brown’s decision to boycott a European summit attended by Robert Mugabe landed him in a bizarre race row.
Clare Short criticised him for sending Baroness Amos, the former Cabinet minister, to represent Britain at today’s EU-Africa summit in Lisbon.
The former Labour MP, who now sits as an Independent, accused Mr Brown of sending a “pseudo minister” chosen for the colour of her skin to the meeting, which has been battered by controversy.
African leaders threatened to boycott the summit unless the Zimbabwean dictator was allowed to attend.
But Mr Brown refused to sit at the same table as Mr Mugabe and ruled that neither he nor any minister would turn up for what critics say is little more than a photo opportunity.
Miss Short, a former international development secretary, outraged the Government by claiming Lady Amos was only sent to Lisbon because she is black.
“I’m afraid that there really isn’t any other explanation,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.
Former Labour MP Clare Short says Lady Amos was only sent to Lisbon because she is black
“I don’t see any reason to send a kind of pseudo minister and I think that it’s not right to send her because she’s black. I don’t see any other reason for sending her.”
Her comments were swiftly denounced by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said that Lady Amos knew the issues involved well and would be an effective representative for Britain.
“I think that is a bit insulting to Baroness Amos,” he told The World at One.
“She is a former secretary of state for international development, she is a former leader of the House of Lords, she has got a lot of knowledge about Africa as a whole, not just Zimbabwe.”
Mr Miliband also defended Mr Brown’s decision to stay away in the face of criticism from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, saying it would have been “absurd” to appear alongside Mr Mugabe for a summit on good governance and human rights.
He said there was “meltdown” in Zimbabwe, where the economy has collapsed, mortality rates are soaring and human rights are widely abused by the regime.
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the EU’s willingness to meet with Mr Mugabe and called on Lady Amos to condemn him in public.
“It is a shameful episode for Europe that President Mugabe is to be feted in Lisbon. Whilst I support the Prime Minister’s decision not to attend, now that Mugabe is there it is important that Baroness Amos lays his crimes bare before all those attending,” he said.
Previous attempts to hold the summit have failed over Mr Mugabe’s attendance but this time the EU, mindful of growing Chinese influence in Africa, decided to hold the summit and invite the Zimbabwean president, who arrived late on Thursday.
Mr Mugabe is seen by African leaders as an independence hero and many said they would not attend if he was not invited.
Lady Amos currently has no other employment apart from sitting as a Labour peer in the Lords.
Valerie Ann Amos, Baroness Amos of Brondesbury.