David Cameron should have used Tony Blair to strike a deal with Gaddafi - senior Tory

Posted On: 
14th September 2016

David Cameron should have turned to Tony Blair to try and broker a political solution to the crisis in Libya in 2011 rather than launched military intervention, the chairman of an influential committee of MPs has said.

Tony Blair with Muammar Gaddafi in 2004
Credit: 
PA Images

The Foreign Affairs Committee this morning published a scathing verdict on Mr Cameron’s handling of the situation in Libya, accusing him of being “ultimately responsible” for the UK’s failure to produce a “coherent” strategy.

In 2011, the UK and France led airstrikes against the Gaddafi regime which ultimately led to the downfall of the dictator.

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But the country has fallen into chaos since he was deposed, with so-called Islamic State terrorists gaining ground and continuing warfare between different factions.

Crispin Blunt, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said political engagement, rather than military action, could have protected civilians and led to regime.

He pointed to the UK’s links with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and Mr Blair’s contact with Muammar Gaddafi, with the former prime minister even calling the Libyan dictator to urge him to leave his post.

The Conservative MP told the Today programme: “We had the means to do it because there were two relationships that were quite important to the United Kingdom.

“One was former prime minister Tony Blair, who had visited Muammar Gaddafi seven times after he had been prime minister. He, on his own initiative, then rang Muammar Gaddafi up at the beginning of this to try and establish a means of communication; he reported that back to the American state department and, of course, to No 10. But no one then said ‘run this, let’s keep this line of communication open’.

“Then on the other hand there’s also this relationship with Saif Gaddafi, famously with LSE, the heavy engagement with the British establishment. And indeed, our policy up until that point, really, around Libyan succession, the only game in town was Saif Gaddafi...

“If there is the possibility of a political strategy to have avoided what turned out to be a calamity, would it have been a sensible idea to have at least tried it?”

Among the committee’s damning criticisms of Mr Cameron’s handling of the crisis were that he committed to the conflict based on “erroneous assumptions” and an “incomplete understanding” of the country, that the Government had “failed to identify that the threat to civilians” from Gaddafi was “overstated”, and that the mission had morphed from humanitarian relief to regime change.

Mr Cameron was defended by Alistair Burt, who was a minister in the Foreign Office at the time, who described the verdict of the committee as “very harsh”.

A spokesman for the FCO has also defended the UK’s actions:

“Muammar Gaddafi was unpredictable and he had the means and motivation to carry out his threats.

"His actions could not be ignored and required decisive and collective international action. Throughout the campaign we stayed within the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

"After four decades of Gaddafi misrule, Libya undoubtedly faces huge challenges. The UK will continue to play a leading role within the international community to support the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord."