UK PM cuts short Africa trip over hacking crisis

British Prime Minister David Cameron begins a two-day trip to South Africa and Nigeria on Monday.

London: Prime Minister David Cameron is cutting short an African trade tour to fly back to Britain to take control of an inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal that has led to the resignation of the country`s top policeman, media reported on Monday.

The Guardian said Cameron had halved the tour`s length to two days from four, and will only visit South Africa and Nigeria. Plans to visit Sudan and Rwanda have been cancelled, it said.

The Prime Minister will fly home on Tuesday to allow him to finalise the arrangements for Lord Justice Leveson`s inquiry into the media, the newspaper said.

The Financial Times said the Prime Minister was returning to the Britain to fend off criticism that he was out of the country in the midst of the scandal.

It cited a source close to the Prime Minister as saying that the Africa trip had been shortened to enable him to focus on events closer to home.

"There are quite a few pressing things going on," the source told the FT.

In his first visit to the region since taking office in May 2010, Cameron is leading a high-level business delegation to South Africa on Monday, where he will call for more trade within the continent to reduce its reliance on aid.

He admitted the issue of an African free trade area, negotiations on which were launched by 26 states last month, was not as headline-grabbing as aid concerts such as Live Aid, but argued it could be far more powerful.

"In the past, there were marches in the West to drop the debt. There were concerts to increase aid. And it was right that the world responded," Cameron wrote in an article in South Africa`s Business Daily ahead of his arrival.

"But they have never once had a march or a concert to call for what will in the long term save far more lives and do far more good -- an African free trade area."

Cameron argued that a free trade area could increase gross domestic product across the continent by an estimated USD 62 billion a year – USD 20 million more than the world gives sub-Saharan Africa in aid.

African leaders agreed in South Africa last month to launch negotiations on creating a free trade zone that would include 26 countries with a combined economy estimated at USD 875 billion (EUR 597 billion).

Cameron is accompanied on his trip by a delegation of 25 business leaders, from the chief executive of Barclays bank, Bob Diamond, to the director of communications and public policy of the English Premier League, Bill Bush.

Bureau Report

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