AN INDEPENDENT councillor has waded into the row about an MP’s visits to a foreign country.

Last November James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, was criticised in The Independent newspaper for flying to Sri Lanka four times in nine months.

Now Marjorie Simpson, a well-known Independent parish councillor in Yarm in James Wharton’s constituency, has criticised her MP.

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The former Conservative said: “I cannot understand why he needs to spend so much time in that country when there are few if any links to our constituency. If the news is to be believed, the regime he is cosying up to are hardly a good example of democracy and appear to treat some of their people appallingly.

“Before he was elected he was everywhere in our area, now we hardly ever see him. It’s time he spent a bit more time here instead of gallivanting around the world.”

In The Independent article, Labour MP John Mann, said Mr Wharton had become too close to the Sri Lankan Government.

However Mr Wharton has strongly defended his interest in Sri Lanka. He stressed that none of the trips were paid for by the British tax-payer, he had helped British trade and he was taking a legitimate long-term interest in the troubled country.

Mr Wharton went to Sri Lanka for a variety of reasons including as a guest of the Sri Lankan government, a charity trip, member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and on a trip with second-generation Britons of Sri Lankan descent for a non-governmental organisation.

Mr Wharton said he had declared all the trips, had spoken to all sections of the community and had stated in parliament “Britain should not be an uncritical friend” of the Sri Lankan government.

He said: “There’s lots of British business interest out there including from a local company and I am glad to do my part.”