Zheng Zeguang, China’s ambassador to the UK, has been barred from British parliament after protests were sparked by MPs and peers still under sanctions by China.
Zeguang had been invited by Richard Graham, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary China Group, to attend a Commons reception on Wednesday.
But Sir Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, and Lord Speaker Lord McFall intervened at the last moment to prevent his attendance.
The Chinese embassy said the decision was “the despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK Parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK” in a statement.
The news, which was first reported by the Daily Telegraph, comes amid escalating tensions between the UK and China.
Earlier this year the UK imposed sanctions for the first time against Chinese officials for the abuse of human rights in Xinjiang.
In response China announced travel bans and asset freezes against five British MPs and two peers on the charge of defaming the country through lies about it.
The sanctioned MPs, which included Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Nusrat Ghani, Neil O’Brien and Tim Loughton, protested their outrage that Zeguang had been invited to a reception on the Terrace Pavilion in a letter.
In it, they wrote: “The sanctions imposed by the Chinese government represent an attack not just on members directly targeted but on Parliament, all parliamentarians, select committees, and parliamentary privilege,” according to The Telegraph.
“It is unthinkable therefore that parliamentarians should have to suffer this infringement on our liberties,” the MPs continued, “whilst the prime representative of the Chinese government in the UK is still apparently free to come to Westminster and to use facilities here as a mouthpiece for his regime.”
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson reportedly said: “Parliament is independent of government. It is for the Speaker to decide who is allowed on the parliamentary estate.”