IAN Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, asked an urgent question in the House of Commons yesterday regarding the territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.

Parliament convened on Thursday, December 14 to discuss the issue, and decided that a minister will visit Guyana as part of the UK Government’s efforts to show support for the South American country.

Foreign Office minister David Rutley told the Commons he plans to visit Guyana in the coming days to show support, saying Venezuela’s stance is “unacceptable”.

Both the minister and Labour said the Venezuelan government’s actions are out of the “playbook” of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Venezuela recently voted in a referendum to claim the disputed territory of Essequibo, a border region controlled by Guyana which is rich in oil and minerals, as its own.

Guyana has vowed to protect its sovereignty, and both sides have put their militaries on alert.

The two countries’ presidents were due to hold talks on Thursday.

Venezuela has claimed the Essequibo region was stolen when the border was drawn more than a century ago.

It says the region was part of its territory during the Spanish colonial period and argues the 1966 Geneva Agreement between their country, Britain and Guyana, the former colony of British Guiana, nullified the border drawn in 1899 by international arbitrators.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) said: “It has to be of worry to this Government and to this House that a Commonwealth country is being set upon by a failing state because it wants to grab land to do oil exploration and take oil.”

He added: “Can I urge this Government please, not just the minister to visit, but make sure there is tangible help to the people of Guyana to encourage them to stand up for their rights.”

Mr Rutley told MPs the UK Government believes Venezuela’s 'actions are clearly unjustified and should cease'.

“The Foreign Secretary has made this clear in a recent meeting and calls with President Ali of Guyana,” he said, adding: “I have been in close contact with our partners in the region to urge de-escalation.”

Mr Rutley told the Commons: “I plan to visit Guyana in the coming days to further show our support to the Guyanese people on this vital issue.”

He said: “The Government completely agrees that the current situation is not acceptable, we are deeply concerned by the unilateral move by Venezuela over this particular region.

“And our position is absolutely clear, it has not changed, the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration and Venezuela has to desist from its action.

“It has deliberated and unacceptably escalated the situation.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “The actions of Venezuela over the past few weeks have been provocative and dangerous.

“(Venezuelan) President Maduro has shown a determination to stoke historical grievances, to attack recognised international borders, to seek aggressive confrontation.”

He added: “It’s the playbook of President Putin. We challenged it in Ukraine and we must do the same in Guyana.”

“As the child of parents who came from Guyana as part of the Windrush generation I am the living proof of our shared history. For my relatives and for all the people of Guyana this is a deeply troubling time,” he said.

Mr Rutley said: “He’s absolutely right, this is from the playbook of Putin, but also other dictators around the world and it needs to be called out and absolutely stopped.”

The minister said the UK will work with international partners, the UN and the Commonwealth 'to call this out and take whatever steps are required'.

Guyana’s president has said the 1996 Geneva Agreement states that the International Court of Justice should settle any border controversy.

By Ben Hatton, PA Political Staff