An invitation was extended to the President to speak at the Oxford Union and was graciously accepted. There was much hoopla in the local press that it was the first time a sitting Head of State would speak twice at the venue in its entire history.
On the eve of the event, it was cancelled, with the President’s Secretary citing pro LTTE groups who had pressured the cancellation, while the Oxford Union cited security concerns having had discussions with the Thames Valley Police who were charged with the security of the visiting Head of State.
Whatever reason is correct, it is definitely a slap in the face for the President, despite any spin that is being put out for public consumption. In my opinion it was a pit of his own making, that resulted in this embarrassment. He should never have accepted the invitation unless he was given assurances in advance of the adequate security, and non-cancellation due to pro LTTE pressure.
Having lived in the UK for 18 years, I would have advised him not to have accepted as I know that the Diaspora, have certainly prejudiced public opinion, and our counter points have been too little too late to effectively negate this view. It is futile therefore to attempt damage control, until positive political moves are made to address the grievances, which have been promised, but not yet even proposed.
This act of failed diplomacy must surely rest with the Ministry of External Affaires which has patently failed to advise Head of State of the nuances of British thinking, possibly because of the lack of understanding of our representatives in the United Kingdom. If however they had advised against it and was overturned by the President, due to vanity or some other personal agenda, then it is him who should shoulder the blame and shame. Sadly his visit will not therefore be remembered for the positive steps taken to build a dialogue with the new Conservative coalition government, but for this date with infamy. Such are the pitfalls of a lack of clear direction in the conduct of foreign policy.
If there is a lesson we can learn from this, it is to clearly understand the lay of the playing field prior to starting the game. A thorough debrief of the saga is warranted so that in future such 'faux pas' are avoided, and eventually it is the nation that looks silly and it is in our interests that our representatives act with care and preparation. I wish we had our version of ‘wikileaks’ to this event to better understand the diplomatic communication between London and Colombo to give an opinion on the events that led up to this. This time the Country lost and we better accept it for what it is worth without saving face and sweeping under the carpet.