Libya

– in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:35 pm, 8th April 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Libya.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

Yet again, this is a dangerous moment for Libya. The UK has wholeheartedly supported the UN’s tireless work under its own action plan to prepare the ground for the national conference due to take place in Libya on 14 April. The UK has warned that any Libyan national army advance on Tripoli would be catastrophic for this political and diplomatic process and risks a descent into more widespread violence. I am afraid I have to tell the House that this scenario appears to be developing, following the LNA advances towards the west and south of Tripoli and the subsequent mobilisation of forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, headed by the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, to oppose that advance.

General Haftar, who is the leader of the Libyan national army, and his aligned forces retain control of Gharyan, which is only 75 km from Tripoli, and have taken the international airport to the south of the capital. I should say that that is not the central Mitiga airport, which is more usually used by those travelling to the city. It was reported only yesterday that some 21 people were killed, and I understand there is ongoing fire almost as we speak.

General Haftar appears to show no sign of stalling his advance, despite urgent diplomatic efforts to urge de-escalation, including a meeting with UN Secretary-General Guterres last week in Tripoli. We continue to focus our diplomatic lobbying on key international partners, and I know that the Foreign Secretary—he is at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels today—has worked together with the other G7 nations, which have come out with a notice on this matter. We therefore call on regional counterparts, in particular in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, to have an eye on the peace plan that has been proposed.

There of course remains a severe risk of escalation between pro-LNA and anti-LNA armed groups. For our purposes, political staff in post have been withdrawn for some time to the Libya office in Tunis in neighbouring Tunisia. The House will appreciate, I hope, that we will not go into great specific detail about exactly what remaining diplomatic staff we have in that country. Obviously, we are keeping these matters under review.

All Libyan parties need urgently to pursue de-escalation to avoid further miscalculation and to recommit unashamedly to the UN-led initiative and political process. There is still time to prevent further violence and to find a political solution. Any party whose actions precipitate violence and bloodshed should now be held accountable by the international community. I call on all our international partners to send the strongest possible message to the LNA commander, Haftar, to back down and to re-engage with the UN process. Indeed, it was at the instigation of the UK, as the penholder at the UN Security Council, that a special session was held at the Security Council in New York on Friday.

The UN reports that the violence has caused the displacement of more than 2,800 people in recent months, which has meant that emergency aid cannot reach casualties, including civilians. It is imperative that all parties respect international humanitarian and human rights law. The UK will continue its concerted diplomatic efforts to urge de-escalation in Libya. We will work in the UN Security Council, the European Union and all other international forums to urge all parties in Libya to re-engage with the political process.

Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I thank officials in his Department in particular for their ongoing work.

Despite everything else that is going on in Government, I am sure the Minister agrees that the UK has a special responsibility to Libya after the military intervention under the coalition Government. In the aftermath of that conflict and the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, Libya has indeed joined the list of failed and fragile states around the world, and, as during the current violence, it is the people of Libya who have suffered the most.

Back in 2011, before the military action, Mr Cameron warned at the Scottish Conservative party conference that if we did not take action,

“Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe’s border, a source of instability, exporting strife beyond her borders”.

My concern is that the lessons of Iraq clearly were not learned in Libya, with spending on military action far outstripping spending on rebuilding. One UN official described the UK’s efforts as

“paltry bone-throwing from a European country whose bombers reaped so much destruction”.

What lessons have been learned from Iraq, and from Libya previously, as we respond to this latest crisis? More specifically, What bilateral support are the UK Government providing for the UN peace process, good governance in Libya, and internal and external security measures in that country?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I think the whole House recognises, as he does, that despite all the other excitement there are a number of areas where the Foreign Office and other elements of Government still have a very active role to play. I think we can be very proud of the work we do. He will know that we are also a penholder at the UN in relation to Yemen, and of course I answered an urgent question on that matter in the House only 10 days ago.

The hon. Gentleman is pretty robust in his views about what happened in 2011. He will remember that, although the intervention was international—it was called for by the Arab League and authorised by the UN Security Council—this Parliament voted in support of UK involvement to prevent attacks on civilians. However, he is correct that after that intervention, although the UK played a role in trying to ensure that there was further planning for a Libyan-owned, UN co-ordinated stabilisation effort, that did not come to pass in the way we would have liked.

There were clear early successes in the immediate aftermath of 2011 that were not sustained. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, General Haftar, who was himself in exile for some 20 years, having fallen out with the Gaddafi regime at the beginning of the 1990s, returned and was regarded as an international operator, with close connections with the US Administration. Obviously, he was not able to make as much progress as he would have liked immediately in 2011, and then, when the civil war broke out in 2014, he had a part to play.

The concern one has about the Haftar regime is whether another strongman is what Libya requires. I think Libya requires democracy. It requires the sort of work the UN will continue steadfastly to do and try to bring about. My biggest concern is that it is very evident that General Haftar does not regard democracy as an important way forward for Libya. Clearly, a number of other groups associated with him are working in a rather negative way, not least given their religious connotations, whether they are from Egypt, the UAE or elsewhere. As a result, I do not think that is the right way forward.

I wanted to give a full answer to the hon. Gentleman, who requested this urgent question. Please be assured that the UK continues to work with international partners in this regard. We take very seriously our responsibilities in that part of the world. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the implications of Libya becoming a failed state in terms of migration flows, which have already been fairly substantial over the last three or four years since the civil war broke out, are obviously very worrying. It is evident that the international contingent will need to work together for quite some time to try to bring stability to that country.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister is surely right that all members of the international community should line up behind the proposals put forward by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The Minister is equally right to underline the point that the earlier British intervention was a humanitarian intervention, approved by the United Nations, to stop a terrible massacre of people in Benghazi, which would have taken place had we not intervened.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said. We were exchanging notes earlier—we were both abroad this weekend and rushed back, from Rwanda in his case and Bangladesh in mine, for this statement.

Let me say a little about the broader aid work that has been done. As part of the Department for International Development’s £75 million migration programme, working along the whole route from west Africa via the Sahel to Libya, up to £5 million has been allocated for humanitarian assistance and protection for migrants and refugees in Libya, including targeted healthcare. We will continue to do that important work into the future, with humanitarian measures in mind.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I also thank Stephen Gethins for securing it. I can only echo what he and the Minister said about the latest disastrous turn of events in Libya and what must be done to address it. As things stand, Libya faces the worst possible choice, between a return to autocratic military rule and permanent civil war. I join others in urging the Government not just to put pressure on Egypt and the UAE, as the Minister mentioned, but to put pressure on France to cease its support for Haftar’s assault on Tripoli and to get the UN peace process back on track.

In the short time that I have, I want to ask the Minister of State, as the hon. Member for North East Fife did, whether he agrees that what we are seeing today shows that the lessons of our intervention in Iraq have not been learned—not truly, not really—and also shows how wrong David Cameron was to suggest that they had been when he published the Chilcot report in 2016. As I said back then, so many of the same disastrous mistakes made by the Governments of the UK and the US over Libya were made by their predecessors over Iraq, most importantly the total and inexcusable failure to prepare for the aftermath of intervention and regime change and to prevent the descent into civil war and instability that Libya still faces today.

How ironic that, a week after he published the Chilcot report, David Cameron left office having created another total mess, with no planning for the aftermath and leaving it to others to face the consequences. As well as everything that must be done now to deal with the situation in Libya today, does the Minister of State agree that it is time for the Government to revisit the recommendations of the Chilcot report to ensure not just that there are no more Iraqs, but that there are no more Libyas?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The recommendations of the Chilcot report were accepted by the Government of the time and I am sure play an active day-to-day part in all the work done in places such as Libya and will continue to do so.

The right hon. Lady asks about the message that we might have for the French Government, who, as she rightly points out, have a stronger relationship with General Haftar and his group. We are working together, as she will be aware, both at the UN Security Council and in the EU, and the G7 have issued a joint statement to bring everyone to the table.

Many hon. Members in all parts of the House would not disagree with much of what the right hon. Lady says. Our engagement and involvement in Iraq and Libya have turned out to have calamitous outcomes. Some progress has been made—one looks to Iraq, where Islamic State has been taken out of the picture. The concern that many rightly have now is about an escalating conflict in Libya. One reason for the urgency behind trying to get everyone round the table to secure a peaceful and diplomatic solution is the concern that Libya could again become a recruiting partner for Islamic State and strengthen Islamic State, which has been wiped out in Iraq and Syria.

We all recognise how interconnected all these issues are. It is important to try to work together constructively. I would like to think that there have been lessons learned, and I think that Chilcot provides an important blueprint and template to ensure that we learn those lessons in future.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I very much welcome the Minister’s comments on the UK’s actions and potential actions in Libya in coming days, but will he touch on the actions of other nations? We have already heard France mentioned and perhaps the United States should be asked whether it has a view, but surely the most important thing is to ask the Kremlin what it is doing. It has troops on the ground, provides military assistance and is already playing a very important role in destabilising the country. Perhaps he could ask his Russian opposite number what Russia is doing to try to bring peace to the country.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Russia has clearly been supportive of the Haftar initiative. It is therefore all the more important that it is kept on board. There is no doubt that the US has a major interest. General Haftar spent 20 years in the US, so is clearly well-connected in that Administration. We are trying to do as much work as we can within the UN framework. As my hon. Friend will be aware, António Gutteres was literally in Libya at the end of last week for the preliminary stage of trying to work through the conference that we still hope will take place at the end of next week. The UN is clearly the right way to do this. I very much hope that my line manager, the Foreign Secretary, will, in the course of the next few days, have options to speak with various counterparts, including those from Russia.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

The lesson from Libya and many other countries is that after a long period of brutal dictatorship it is not uncommon to see different factions fighting for power to see who will take over. As the Minister said, we must do everything we can to support Prime Minister al-Serraj’s Government. The question I want to ask the Minister is on humanitarian assistance. I welcome his announcement about the money DFID will provide, but given the proximity of General Haftar’s forces to Tripoli, who will actually be able to provide that humanitarian assistance on the ground if, heaven forbid, there is even more fighting in the suburbs of Tripoli, given that we hear reports that many people from the international community are in the process of being, if they have not already been, evacuated from Tripoli?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which I alluded to in my reply to Stephen Gethins. It is a concern that some humanitarian aid, which is so desperately required for the most recent incidents, cannot reach people. We will work with the international community. Through our aid efforts we already work with a number of NGOs with long-standing connections on the ground, but this is a fluid situation that will require a long and concerted international effort. We are watching what is happening on a day-by-day basis. It is in everyone’s interests that all parties get around the table at the earliest possible opportunity for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman points out. The worst of all options for the humanitarian situation is that there are ungoverned spaces in Libya where terrible atrocities have taken place and will continue to take place.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that introduction. Which side are our sworn Islamist enemies backing in Libya?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My right hon. Friend, I know, feels strongly about these matters. They are backing different sides. All sides have, in a quite disparate way, elements of Islamic State or other extremist Islamist groups. This is the nub of the problem. Faustian bargains have been made by most of those who would either be warlords or would run Libya. They are building very unstable coalitions, which I think are very destructive for the reasons he alludes to.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is significant evidence that the United Arab Emirates is supporting Haftar’s efforts in east Libya. Surely we, as candid friends of the Emiratis, should make it clear to them that that is unacceptable. Does that take us to a point where, as candid friends, we may need to be a bit more candid and a bit less friendly?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

There is little doubt that the influence of the United States only last year in the Benghazi region was profound. At that point, when it looked as though Haftar was going to move forward, it was made clear that the US would not just be unsupportive but would prevent such efforts. As I have said, the situation is now very fluid. We will make strong representations to those from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia who have essentially backed the Haftar efforts in east and south Libya. We also very much hope that they use whatever diplomatic efforts they can to bring him to the negotiating table.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Libya. I congratulate the Minister and the UK on the role they played in helping to secure the recent UN Security Council resolution condemning the military advance. Does he agree that it is extremely disappointing that Haftar ignored the recent EU delegation at Benghazi that urged him to allow the forthcoming national conference to go ahead? He has mentioned this already, but will he give more details about those countries—the UAE, Egypt and Russia in particular—that have actively supported General Haftar? What more can we do to ensure that they play a constructive role?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend, who was the Minister for Africa and is our trade envoy to Libya. As he said to me earlier, there is understandably not a lot of trade going on between the countries at the moment, but I know he has a strong interest in and love of Libya and that he wishes that country all the best.

We are doing all that we can within the international community. There is a united UN front to try to ensure that we move ahead and that the conference takes place next week. It is the only game in town to ensure a better life for all Libyans going forward.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

With tensions escalating, what concrete action are the Government taking to deal with the terrible conditions in the camps on the coast of Libya where people are being trafficked?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

As I pointed out to Hilary Benn, the difficulty is that, as conflict starts, suddenly other parts of Libya become difficult to reach for many involved in humanitarian aid-giving. As the hon. Lady will know, we are doing all that we can within those camps. I touched on the substantial amount of money we have put in through our DFID budget in years gone by, and we will continue to do so in as accurate a way as possible. She rightly points out that issues such as people trafficking and sexual violence in conflict are at the forefront of our mind. We recognise that there are major issues in Libya as it stands.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Here we go again, making the same mistakes as we made in Iraq and Syria. I agree with everything the shadow Foreign Secretary said. The Government of national accord is actually a Government of national chaos, deeply infiltrated by jihadism. Does the Minister think that Egypt is safer, and the people happier, with the Government of General Sisi or the Government of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

As a relatively new boy to this brief, I will not speculate on that issue. On the point my right hon. Friend alluded to, which came up earlier, I am afraid the truth is jihadists are playing a part in almost all of these organisations. Things are much more factionalised than meets the eye, so compromises are always being made in supporting one side or another. There is an elected Government in Syria headed by the Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, and we are rightly doing our best to support that Government.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Is it in fact time to look at events in Libya as a wake-up call in relation to Russia’s increasing involvement in Africa? It is looking for bases for its troops and access to Libyan ports. It already has naval logistics centres in Eritrea and Sudan, military co-operation agreements with Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali and Madagascar, and contracts for its mercenaries in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, all of whom, coincidentally, give it support at the United Nations. Is it not time to look at the bigger picture?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I like to think that we do try to look at the bigger picture, but she is right. Increasingly, for economic and other reasons, including diplomatic reasons, as she rightly says—having support at the United Nations is important to both Russia and China, for example—we do need to look at the bigger picture. The opportunities that are there because of the rising population of Africa mean that it will receive more and more attention, which is sometimes paid, I am afraid, in a rather nefarious way, as she pointed out.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Recent developments in Libya are very worrying for the Libyan population, but in recent years Libya has been a route for many economic migrants, asylum seekers and those fleeing war in other parts of Africa. What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact on migrants seeking to come across in very perilous conditions to places such as Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, and what discussions has he had with our still EU partners about the precautions that can be taken to deal with a potential flood of further refugees?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is absolutely right: the porous borders in other parts of Africa and the fact that Libya is on the seafront of the Mediterranean makes it an attractive proposition. The British Government have allocated some £12 million in this financial year for Libya through the conflict, stability and security fund, which is designed to boost not only political participation but economic development, which is key to providing opportunities to generations of Libyans as well as, hopefully, in other parts of Africa. We are trying to support the delivery of greater security, stability and resilience in the entirety of this region.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

It is simplistic to draw analogies between Libya and Iraq, but does the Minister agree that the intervention in Libya was to stop a potential massacre in Benghazi, as Mr Mitchell said? The Minister also made the point in his statement that 260,000 people have been displaced. What assessment have the Government made about further displacement and the effect on migration and refugees travelling across the Mediterranean?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

There is an ongoing assessment of migrant flows, and clearly we work closely with many of our EU partners—not least Italy, which is often the recipient of large numbers coming through. Just to touch on the issue of detention centres, there are appalling conditions in many of them. While we do not fund Libyan detention centres—they are the responsibility of Libyan authorities —we recognise that that becomes the starting point for many of the migrant journeys to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

I thank the Minister for the update and I am glad to hear that he is encouraging restraint on all sides to avoid bloodshed and violence. Does he have a message for the Government of France, who have a close relationship with General Haftar?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the French, and as I pointed out, the United States, or aspects of the US Administration, also has a close relationship. We are calling on all international partners to use whatever influence they have to implore General Haftar to back down and to promote the peace process, which is obviously handled at the UN. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to his French counterpart only today in Brussels and has made that case.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South

Would it be correct to say that this recent move is driven by a 75-year-old general in a hurry, who wants to create facts on the ground, supported by a coalition of anti-Muslim Brotherhood countries from the Arab world, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and others who wish to exploit the oil if General Haftar takes control of it?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman knows much about this subject, and has obviously kept an eye on Libyan affairs for quite some time. General Haftar may not be the only old man in a hurry, in certain ways.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is broadly right, although I fear that the situation is less linear than he suggests. There may be groups who do not like the Muslim Brotherhood, but I think that some Faustian bargains are being made when it comes to the coalitions that are being formed. As the hon. Gentleman says, given that the strength of General Haftar’s work has tended to be in the Benghazi region, oil is clearly very much at the forefront of his mind.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The Secretary General of the United Nations said that he was leaving Libya with a heavy heart, and that he was deeply concerned about the escalation of the conflict there. However, a diplomatic and political conflict is going on behind the scenes between France and Italy. Given that both those countries are members of the European Union and of NATO, what more can the UK Government do to bring about political and diplomatic consensus, especially in view of the fact that the Russians are now very close to the new Italian Government?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I think that there is consensus among our European Union neighbours, and, as I have said, the G7 have issued a statement. It was greatly to be regretted that, for safety reasons, the Secretary General of the United Nations had to flee literally 10 days before we were hoping to get the conference under way. However, I think that a lot of diplomatic work is going on. There is a great deal of concern in the international community, which recognises that if Libya were to become a failed state, all the migration issues—as well as, obviously, the massive humanitarian issues—that we have seen in recent years would only worsen. However, we are working very closely with all our international partners, and will continue to do so.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

It pains me to say that in 2011, in a speech that I made during a debate about the military intervention in Libya, I predicted everything that has been happening there since that intervention. Members are welcome to read the speech in Hansard. It is also disturbing—and has been confirmed by a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee—that there was no immediate humanitarian need requiring a military intervention. What practical assistance are we providing for the refugees—especially children—who have been caught in Tripoli?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I think it a little unfair of the hon. Lady to suggest that there was no humanitarian issue in 2011. We went in because of what was happening in Benghazi. I accept that the early optimism and successes were not sustained, and that would clearly have to happen at UN level.

I mentioned earlier the amount of aid that we continue to put into Libya. We have invested some £75 million in the migration programme, working across the whole route from west Africa to Libya via the Sahel. As I have said, we will also do all that we can in the camps that are not run by the Libyan authorities. We are all very concerned that a further outbreak of hostilities will only lead to even more humanitarian misery.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

Whatever the result of the power struggle in Libya, the priority of our Government will still be to work towards compensation for the victims of Semtex supplied by Libya to the IRA. I welcome the appointment of William Shawcross to look into the whole issue, but will my right hon. Friend assure the victims that it will not be sidelined, and that the Government will continue to pursue it to ensure that justice is done and compensation is paid to those who suffered so horribly at the hands of the IRA?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

May I first correct something that I said earlier? The UN Secretary General did not flee Libya, and I am sorry if I gave that impression and there was a misapprehension. Obviously, the UN still has a significant presence in Libya.

We all want to see a just solution for all the victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, but the political and security situation in Libya has, I am afraid, effectively stalled further discussion with the authorities about a resolution of the important legacy issues to which my hon. Friend referred. He also referred to the appointment of William Shawcross as the special representative on UK victims, which forms part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to helping the victims of Libya-supported IRA terrorism. I share many of his concerns and much of his impatience: we would have liked to see more progress. I think he will understand that the general instability in Libya has made that difficult, but we are working steadfastly and will continue to do so.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

The situation in Libya is looking increasingly desperate, as the country is on the brink of slipping back into authoritarian control. Will the Minister therefore tell us what the outcome of the discussions at the United Nations on Friday was in terms of preventing a humanitarian as well as a political crisis?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

To be fair, the reality was that the United Nations Security Council was trying to enhance, and make clear that we were keen to continue with, the action plan, which would obviously have involved the conference taking place on the 14th, and to redouble the united voice of the United Nations in that regard. Clearly, the humanitarian aspects are part of the ongoing work at the bilateral level—through DFID, for us, and through other organisations—and are increasingly required at the UN and non-governmental organisation level.

Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative, Aberdeen South

Will my right hon. Friend please tell the House what measures he and his Department are taking to ensure that UK staff based in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya are being kept safe throughout these events?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Our embassy in Tripoli has remained closed since 2014, but we do have a permanent diplomatic presence, and a lot of work involving Libyan issues is undertaken from Tunis, in neighbouring Tunisia.

We do try to update the travel advice on a factual basis, and the message that we have broadly for British nationals in Libya—clearly, there are relatively few still there—states at the moment that consular assistance is not available, for obvious reasons, and that we are therefore unable to provide any form of assisted departure. That is a fairly strong signal for UK nationals that, unless it is absolutely necessary for them to be in Libya, we would advise them not to be there.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Libya is on the edge of a precipice. It is the biggest arms supplier to ISIS, Daesh, the Fulani herdsmen and criminal gangs. North Africa and middle Africa are in danger of being sucked into terrorism at levels never seen before. Can the Minister outline how he intends to use any available diplomatic and financial pressure to ensure that there is a crackdown on the international black market in the sale of arms?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the depressing things is that Libya has been at the edge of a precipice for more years than any of us cares to remember. As the penholder for Libya at the UN Security Council, the UK has made it and will continue to make it a priority to ensure that there is meaningful action against the illegal flow of weapons into and out of Libya. We led on Security Council resolution 2292, which authorises all member states and regional organisations to take specific and measured steps to interdict suspected embargo-breaking vessels off Libya’s coast

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Following Russia’s decisive and successful intervention in support of President Assad, it now appears that Russia is backing General Haftar in Libya. What is to stop the west’s strategic foreign policy objectives being just as much of a failure in Libya as they were in Syria?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for his rather bleak analysis of the situation. Clearly, there are fundamental differences between what is happening in Syria and in Libya. Each of those is unique, and it would be unwise to draw too many direct parallels. As I pointed out, there are other nations involved; this is not just about Russian-led support for General Haftar—as I say, there is support from Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates. We will do all we can in our role in the UN Security Council to try to broker an international solution, and that, I am afraid, can be the only sensible way forward.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

One of the worst consequences of the conflict in Libya has been the re-emergence of an open slave trade in parts of the country, with many media interviews showing open auctions of humans. What is the British Government’s assessment of the scale of the problem, and what can be done with our international partners to break down the supply chain in humans?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the most bleak aspect of the humanitarian side is modern-day slavery and people trafficking. I do not have the information that he requests. The precise nature of the problem is obviously in part a matter for the Department for International Development, but I am afraid it is clear that this has become prevalent not just in Libya but in a number of neighbouring countries, and that the supply lines also cross the Mediterranean.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

There are various factions in Libya, including the Government of national accord and the Libyan national army. Whoever forms the next Government after this skirmish, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the perpetrators of the bombing in Manchester will be brought to justice? As yet, the internationally recognised Government have not supplied that extradition.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for his observations. Let me make it clear that the international community stands behind the Government of national accord, the elected Government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. There is clearly speculation as to whether there was any nexus between our intervention in Libya and the Manchester attack, but we are aware that there were Libyan nationals involved and we will obviously do our best to ensure extradition and justice at an early opportunity. However, the experience of what happened in Lockerbie means that we will have to recognise that this may take some time.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I have a number of Libyan constituents who have left Libya for reasons that the Minister will understand, and some of them have been waiting for decisions from the Home Office for quite some time. He alluded to the travel advice issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is there any other advice that is shared between the FCO and the Home Office that could bring closure to my constituents?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Lady represents a city centre seat, as I do, and I am well aware of the issues faced by people who want to make their lives in the United Kingdom and who would make a great contribution here. Those people want their situation to be regularised, but these are inevitably issues for the Home Office. I am sorry—I am not trying to get out of this matter, but I think it would be useful for her to contact the Home Office with the specifics.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Libya is a country with immense potential, given its resource wealth and its position in the Mediterranean, yet there is something quite tragic about the fact that, having effected the displacement of its Government, the British state has not been in any way competent in effecting the transition to a peaceful solution in Libya. We have to take responsibility for that reality. What will this Government do to ensure that the United Nations-backed Government of national accord are properly resourced to effect security and stability on the ground? They are clearly failing to do that at the moment, and they are being displaced by other forces sponsored by other foreign powers.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

While everyone needs to take responsibility for issues that have happened in the past in Libya, it would be a little unfair to suggest that things were perfect before our engagement there in 2011. We all recognise that there have been major problems for some time, but the tragedy of what has happened in Libya and elsewhere is that things at least seemed to be better when there was a strongman dictator in charge, and that when we tried to move towards a more pluralistic and democratic outcome, things got worse. In my view, that should not in any way be a justification for dictatorship or autocracy, but it has tended to be the case. A number of dictators, including Gaddafi, have been supported by the west in the aftermath of 2003 and leading up to 2011. These are difficult issues that we inevitably have to deal with, but responsibility has to be shared with the people on the ground. The tragedy of what has happened in Libya is that it has been a divided country almost since it was created—it was created using rather an artificial divide—and the only time there appeared to be stability was under a dictatorship. That is a terrible lesson for future generations of Libyans to learn.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

As we have heard, many thousands of migrants have already suffered outrageous human rights abuses in Libya, including in appalling detention centres. Will the Government now argue at international level for an urgent rethink of the inhumane policy of facilitating the return to those very conditions of many of the migrants being rescued from the Mediterranean?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that that is clearly a matter for the Home Office, rather than the Foreign Office. However, if the humanitarian situation in Libya deteriorates further, clearly the whole Government will have that in mind.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

The Libyan crisis followed a similar crisis in Tunisia, and it is now a compound crisis, given the resignation of President Bouteflika in Algeria. Can the Minister therefore reassure the House that his Department is alive to the situation and to the problems that our Mediterranean neighbours now face with this compound crisis about to unfold on them?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

We are very much alive to the situation. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the instability in the neighbouring countries of Algeria and Tunisia provides some concern for what might happen. The migrant flows, which we thought were being reduced from their height in 2015 and 2016, may yet increase substantially, so it is something that our European neighbours are well aware of. We recognise that we will all have to play out part in trying to handle that humanitarian misery flow.