Libya and the Middle East

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 28th February 2011.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:32 pm, 28th February 2011

May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? I should like to ask him about the four areas he covered—the immediate safety of British nationals, the future of the Libyan regime and the wider middle east, and the lessons learned from this crisis—but may I first join him in expressing deep and abiding gratitude to members of the British armed forces, who have succeeded with such extraordinary courage and professionalism in evacuating so many of our citizens and those of many other countries from Libya over the last week? Those brave men and women are a credit to our nation. May I also add my thanks to the Foreign Office staff on the ground in Libya for their efforts?

As the Prime Minister said, our first concern must always be the safety of our own people. For obvious operational and security reasons, I would not expect the Prime Minister to discuss future operations, but will he reassure the House that all contingencies continue to be looked at in relation to any remaining UK citizens stranded in Libya? Given the closure of the British embassy on Saturday—I understand the reasons for that—will he assure us that everything continues to be done to keep in close contact with those citizens who remain, and tell us what means of communication are available to them?

On the question of Libya’s political future, I think that the whole House will endorse the Prime Minister’s view that the only acceptable future is one without Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. We welcome what the Prime Minister said about a possible no-fly zone. We also welcome the international isolation of Libya expressed in UN Security Council resolution 1970, including sanctions and an arms embargo, and the decision to refer the killing of protesters to the International Criminal Court.

The resolution imposes travel bans on 17 Gaddafi loyalists and asset freezes on a number of other individuals. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he thinks that those asset freezes go wide enough and cover all those beyond Colonel Gaddafi’s immediate family who have decided to stand with him? Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government will make full use of the provision in paragraph 23 of the resolution to nominate additional regime members who should be targeted by travel bans and asset freezes? On the human rights situation, there is clearly a growing humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian border and I welcome the steps that will be taken, which the Prime Minister talked about.

Let me turn to events beyond Libya, in the wider region. The events unfolding across the middle east—the Prime Minister reflected this in his statement—are as significant as the revolutions that liberated eastern Europe in 1989. As he says, our response to them needs to be equally ambitious. There is a popular will in many of those countries for democratic reform, and that movement is in line with the values that we share.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the way to approach this situation is to build a strategic response, including closer economic ties, support for civil society and institution-building in those countries? Will he concede that, although there is much that we can and should do bilaterally, real progress will require sustained will and effort at a multilateral level, including at the level of the European Union? May I also share the sentiment that he expressed that it will be a tragedy if, in this moment of change, the opportunity were not grasped to make progress on the Israel-Palestine issue? May I therefore support his calls for the rapid resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians and his decision to support the recent UN Security Council resolution on settlements? What steps will the UK take to get negotiations moving again?

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will work with EU partners to strengthen both the guidelines and the operation of the rules on arms sales?

May I ask about the lessons to be learned from the immediate crisis response last week? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have in recent days been dealing with constituents who are deeply anxious about family members stranded in Libya. Does the Prime Minister accept that the Foreign Office should have done more, as other countries did, to ensure that planes were on the ground in Libya on Tuesday, rather than late on Wednesday night, to evacuate our citizens? Will he explain why that was not the case? Given the scale of the emergency and the transparent need for co-ordination across Government, does the Prime Minister now agree that the emergency committee, Cobra, should have been convened earlier than Thursday? Again, will he explain why that did not happen?

Will the Prime Minister share with the House the wider lessons that he personally learned about the running of his Government? I think that the whole country has now, thankfully, seen the scale of response that can be mobilised to help our citizens, but will he promise that British nationals abroad will not be let down in future, as they were by the chaos and incompetence that we saw last week? I am surprised that he has not taken the opportunity of his statement to apologise to the House for the handling of the crisis last week. I hope that, in his reply, he will take the opportunity to do so.

When the inquiry is completed, will the Prime Minister promise that there will be an oral statement to report its findings to the House, along with the conclusions on the lessons that need to be learned?