Bashar al-Assad
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad Creative Commons

Brooks Newmark, the Conservative MP for Braintree and a government whip, held talks on Monday with the controversial Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, whose brutal repression of protests has been condemned by the UK. As the press and activists were outraged by the MP's meeting with Assad, the Foreign Office has insisted that Newmark's trip does not have government backing.

Just as the ICC announced the indictment of Colonel Gaddafi, Newmark was seen having tea with the Syrian dictator who has been accused of being responsible for the deaths, disappearance, torture and repression of thousands of Syrians.

Since its involvement in the Nato-led operation in Libya, the UK government has reiterated calls for repressive regimes and despots to step down. Despite the Syrian government denying any wrong doing, footages and photos of the security forces using live ammunitions on protesters keep on emerging and just a few weeks ago thousands of Syrian were forced to take refuge on the Turkish border as they tried to escape a severe government crackdown on protesters.

The fact that Newmark was allowed to meet Assad and discuss with him privately is a proof that despite its public calls for leaders to respect human rights and protect civilians, behind closed doors, the government is much more lenient with authoritarian regimes. Despite accusations of torture, the U.K government has kept its diplomatic ties with Syria, which make its position in Libya all the more hypocritical.

Former foreign office minister, Denis MacShane tried to defend the government's position during a parliamentary session, and said:

"On the day that Bashar al-Assad's fellow despot, Colonel Gaddafi, is indicted by the International Criminal Court it is extraordinary that a government minister turns up in Damascus to meet with the man Did Mr Newmark discuss his trip with William Hague?

Was it authorised by the Chief Whip? Who paid for the trip? How long was he in Syria? What did he say to Bashar al-Assad? It is without precedent that a minister on the government payroll goes off to meet a man now being accused of grave crimes against his people?

If the Foreign Office did authorise this trip it should have been reported to Parliament when William Hague spoke on the region last week. If it was not authorised by the Foreign Office then who is in charge of government foreign policy and contacts with dictators with blood on their hands?"

Later on Foreign Secretary William Hague said that while Mr Newmark had discussed the visit with him but that he had undertaken the trip in a personal capacity.

In a letter to Douglas Alexander, his Labour shadow who had demanded an explanation of government ties to the visit, Mr Hague said Britain had maintained diplomatic ties with Syria.

"My officials met with Mr Newmark and they made clear the steps that the UK Government thinks the Syrian regime should take," he wrote. "He agreed to reflect this in his conversation with President Assad. I believe it is important that we use all means to convey these messages directly to President Assad."

The regime has been sharply criticised for its hard-line response to the protests. Hundreds have died and thousands were imprisoned but the UK government still think that negotiation is the way forward, which stand in sharp opposition to its stance in Libya.

The visit also directly benefited Assad as Sana, the Syrian state news agency attempted to gain a propaganda benefit from the meeting and reported that the pair had discussed "the recent events taking place in Syria and the advanced steps achieved in the comprehensive reform programme."

It is difficult to understand why the government refused to consider to establish a dialogue with Gaddafi and ruled out attempts to find a political solution to the Libyan conflict in the firsts weeks on protests when it still support the Assad regime after months of demonstrations and more importantly hundreds of civilians deaths.