A group of lords and Anglican priests have provoked criticism after they met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last week.

Catholic peer Lord Hylton was part of a contingent including Baroness Cox, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester and the Rev Andrew Ashdown.

Labour MP John Woodcock, vice-president of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Syria, said: “Whatever good intentions this British delegation has will fail; their presence at this man’s side can only strengthen him as his campaign of terror continues.”

Baroness Cox defended the trip, saying: “You’re in the country, you want to meet as many people as you can. You go to raise concerns, which you can’t do if you don’t meet.

“The main purpose was to hear the voices of the people of Syria, to hear their voice.”

In an interview with Premier Christian radio, Baroness Cox said the Syrian people were anxious about foreign intervention. “They plead with us: ‘Please do not let the British government and the international community bring about an enforced regime change, let us decide our own future,’ and the government is doing a lot to try to promote reconciliation,” she said. “Their suffering is huge, but you need to know and that’s why we went – to listen, to learn, to tell the stories of their horrendous suffering.”

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