British PM leaves hacking row behind to visit SA

2011-07-18 09:04

British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into South Africa today for a trade visit, as the phone hacking scandal at home exploded with the resignation of the country’s top police officer.

Cameron was told about the resignation of Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, just more than an hour after taking off from London yesterday for a two-day trip to South Africa and Nigeria, aides said.

Downing Street aides admitted they had been caught off guard by Stephenson’s resignation, but insisted it was right for Cameron to continue with his trip, which involves a high-level business delegation.

Ahead of his arrival in South Africa, where he will hold talks with President Jacob Zuma as well as Desmond Tutu, Cameron called for Africa to boost its intra-continental trade to reduce its reliance on aid.

“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 Business Day 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 $62 billion (R428.8 billion) a year – $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 $875 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.

But commentators at home are questioning the timing of his trip.

The phone hacking scandal led to the arrest yesterday of Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, and the shock resignation of Stephenson.

Cameron is friends with Brooks, and has also come under fire for his decision to employ her successor as editor, Andy Coulson, as his media chief until January. Coulson was also arrested earlier this month over hacking.

Stephenson quit after pressure over his links with a former deputy editor of the News of the World, Neil Wallis, who was arrested last week, but he took a sideswipe at Cameron over his ties to Coulson.

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