Labour Hartlepool by-election candidate said Saudi Arabia was ‘modern and progressive’ after going on £8,700 trip paid for by regime

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Labour’s candidate for the upcoming Hartlepool by-election described Saudi Arabia as a “modern, progressive” country after going on a junket organised by its autocratic regime, it has emerged.

Paul Williams said the stage-managed trip to the oil-rich monarchy had “totally changed my view of the country” and recounted telling his embassy handlers that his previous ideas had been “blown out of the water”.

Parliament’s register of interests shows Dr Williams accepted the trip as an £8,762 donation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its shura council, the country’s toothless parliament that is entirely appointed by the king.

He was picked by his party on Thursday to contest the seat of Hartlepool, which Labour is hoping to retain after its MP Mike Hill resigned over allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies.

Until 2019 Dr Williams was an MP half an hour down the road from Hartlepool in Stockton South, but was ousted by voters at that year’s election. He went on the Saudi Arabia trip a year earlier in 2018 while he was a sitting MP.

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