I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for stability in Libya.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Ms McDonagh.
I want to begin by sending my best wishes to all Libyans who have been affected by the horrific floods that have killed thousands in the east of the country and have displaced many more. In Derna, a town with a population of just 90,000, at least 4,000 people have been confirmed dead and another 10,000 have been reported missing. It was the last thing Libya needed. The death toll was clearly exacerbated by an inability to cope with a crisis of such magnitude, as well as by the lack of proper infrastructure.
I last visited Libya in 2005 with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Although we were not able to meet the then leader Colonel Gaddafi—or President Gaddafi —we were able to meet Moussa Koussa, his de facto deputy. It was a deeply disturbing experience being in Libya, a place with no road signs. Tripoli was a city where you could not find your way around unless you had been there before, because there were no directions and no street names—no nothing, in fact—and we were spied on in the hotel we stayed in. A lot has changed since that day, that year, that era. It is questionable whether it is better or worse now.
Since I applied for this debate, the world has become an even more unstable place. The conflict between Israel and Hamas has shaken the middle east and north Africa to the core. The increased instability makes this debate even more important than it was before. I want to put on the record my condolences to all the innocent Israelis who have lost loved ones as a result of the Hamas terrorist attacks, and to everyone in the region, especially in Gaza, who has lost their life as part of the wider conflict.
As we begin this important debate, it may be beneficial to look at the chequered history of Libya, a country that went from being part of the Roman empire to being part of the Ottoman empire. It was briefly an Italian colony in the 1920s and ’30s and became a monarchy under King Idris from 1951 to 1969, and then effectively a dictatorship under Gaddafi for 42 years. I realise that we do not have time for a full history of Libya, but that gives a brief background. It is right on the edge of Europe, in north Africa—the closest point to the European continent apart from Tangier and Gibraltar.
Some Libyans will have lived under four different kinds of Government, continually suffering from one type of Government to the next. After the 2011 revolution, there were elections in 2012 and 2014, but, sadly, division continued and the country fractured into competing groups. A UN-led peace effort brought the Libya political agreement of December 2015, which established the Government of national unity in Tripoli. That Government failed to unite the country. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan warlord, attacked Tripoli in April 2019, assisted by Wagner Group mercenaries, but was beaten back with the help of Turkish forces. A ceasefire was signed in October 2020, which led to another political attempt to appoint a Government of national accord in Tripoli headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. That also failed to unite the country. The House of Representatives—the national Parliament that was elected in 2014—then appointed a rival Government of national stability based in Benghazi.
Divisions continue to the present day. Libya effectively has two Governments, two Assemblies, rogue warlords and militias very often armed by outside countries and groups that have an interest in what is happening in Libya, especially its natural resources. Tragically, ordinary Libyans have little say in the direction of their country. The legacy of Gaddafi and the failure of the revolution is illustrated in the tragedy of Derna: a lack of effective institutions of the state; a failure to invest in infrastructure, training and capacity building; widespread corruption; a political class that lines its own pockets rather than serving the people; and the inability of the nascent civil society to find its voice.
I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate. He is outlining the relatively recent history of Libya. Does he agree that there could well be progress not only in Libya, but in the wider region and even here in the UK, where there are £12 billion of frozen assets from the Libyan regime, particularly under Gaddafi? Gaddafi and others supplied terrorist material to the likes of the Provisional IRA. Many innocent victims here could benefit, as well as, more fundamentally, people in Libya and the wider middle east.
I thank the hon. Member for his timely intervention. I will go on to talk about why Libya matters to us in the UK, but he is absolutely right to say that for decades, or certainly for many years, Gaddafi and his so-called Government were funding terror groups throughout the world, especially in Ireland, in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom. What happens in Libya in future, and the role that we and the British Government can play, matters to all of us—not just in the UK, but across Europe, the wider middle east and north Africa. It is clear to me that Libya is a failed state and has been one for some time. I will now say why, as the hon. Member pointed out, it matters to us.
Libya’s long Mediterranean coastline is within a few hundred miles of the southern flank of NATO, and there are over 500 Russian mercenaries controlling part of the country. Given the growing Russian aggression and involvement in Libya, this has clear security implications for the alliance. The Opposition’s commitment to preserving that security is unshakeable, as I am sure is the case for all Members across the House. Libya’s long, porous border with countries of the Sahel has also been a route for drugs and people-smuggling and is now one of the main routes for migrants to cross the desert and take boats across the Mediterranean. The conditions in which the migrants are held are terrible and terrifying and are a major abuse of humanitarian standards and basic human rights. This was exacerbated hugely by the recent floods.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), Libya matters for our nation’s security. The lack of effective government in Libya has allowed warped ideologies to thrive. The terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015, in which 30 British tourists were killed, including two people from Leeds, were carried out by a Tunisian trained in Libya. The Manchester bombing of 2017 was carried out by a British Libyan radicalised in Libya. If we are serious about protecting the United Kingdom from terrorism, we must be serious about restoring legitimate government to Libya.
As we know, Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. At the moment, it produces 1 million barrels per day and large quantities of natural gas. We are rightly looking to wean ourselves off Russian gas, and this could play a part, but it is important to note that the huge unpopulated areas of Libya are also perfect for solar farms and other renewable sources.
When I held the role of shadow Minister with responsibility for the region, I worked closely with our allies and partner organisations to develop a potential road map for peace in Libya. This was ambitious, but if we do not operate with ambition, we will never achieve anything worthy of defending the rights and wellbeing of the Libyan people, as well as the wider area.
The year 2011 should have been an opportunity for a new start in Libya, but it was not. That is thanks in no small part to a variety of international actors who have intervened in Libya for self-serving reasons, whether that be an attempt to access an abundance of natural resources or the geopolitical advantages of having a sympathetic Government installed in north Africa. Sadly, that has been to the detriment of the Libyan people, who have continually suffered hugely. Healthcare services are dire, access to electricity is extremely limited and the ongoing lack of security has left thousands displaced. As the penholder for Libya at the United Nations, the United Kingdom must play its part in alleviating the suffering of millions of Libyans. We can do it, and we should and must.
The implications of the lack of a co-ordinated international response to the crisis in Libya and of the outright failure of Libyan state institutions have contributed significantly to the refugee crisis, with a subsequent impact on the UK’s strategic interests in the region. It is time for the United Kingdom to work with the UN to ensure that Libya can begin to repair the horrific damage that it has faced after years of political instability and civil war. In the past, the international approach has lacked understanding of the situation on the ground in the country. It failed properly to understand the political, military, social and ethnic circumstances that have fuelled the conflict. I therefore urge the UK Government to take a leading role in convening an urgent high-level meeting of all the state parties involved in Libya, including France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as, of course, the United States. Those parties should meet regularly to assess the situation and to help Libya to heal itself.
The United Kingdom should also urge all foreign powers to withdraw military personnel from Libya immediately, end the supply of military equipment and mercenaries to the country, ensure that the UN is able to investigate any reports that the permanent ceasefire agreement has been violated, and ensure that all foreign fighters leave the country within three months as per the 23 October ceasefire arrangement. We must ensure that the United Nations is able to uphold its arms embargo by allowing all inspections of cargo entering Libya to be carried out in full, and we must condemn those countries that continue to allow arms to enter Libya.
There must be a leader in mediating the negotiation of a political settlement between the main power brokers that ensures a just distribution of the country’s wealth and enormous potential wealth, and opens the way for the unification of key national institutions including the Libyan army, the Libyan central bank and the National Oil Corporation. That leader must also urgently collaborate with all external powers to ensure that the Libyan economy can be reformed, as it is one of the fundamental drivers of the conflict and a root cause of violence, displaced people and corruption. Some of the people I spoke to in preparing for today’s debate told me that if only Libya had a properly functioning economy that worked well, many of the migrants who come from sub-Saharan Africa and eventually end up on the shores of Europe—some of them come to the UK—would be content to work within the economy of Libya and send remittances back to their home countries, communities, towns and villages, and that would stop them wanting to come across the Mediterranean sea and into Europe. That is something we need to work towards.
The aims should also work towards the ultimate goal of a transition to constitutional governance with peaceful and fully democratic parliamentary and presidential elections. I believe that that will end slavery, people-trafficking and arbitrary deportations. It will step up the help to improve the lives and wellbeing of the Libyan people in order to alleviate the refugee crisis and prevent any further loss of life for those who are forced to cross the Mediterranean in perilous conditions. It is in our economic and strategic interests, too.
I welcome the discussion that took place earlier this week at the Security Council meeting, including the renewal of the mandate for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, but we need action, not more words. Earlier this year, the Security Council reaffirmed its strong commitment to an
“inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process”
facilitated by the United Nations. Now is the time to make it happen.
I thank the House of Commons Library and the former UK ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, for their assistance with today’s debate. I also thank all Members for attending this morning to discuss such a vital issue.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Ms McDonagh. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for securing this important debate.
My strong interest in Libya stems from my childhood experiences. As the only Conservative Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country—communist Poland, of course—it is difficult to explain to young people today how there was no food in the shops and everything was rationed. We could not get chocolate, exotic fruits or anything like that, but my aunt and uncle were sent to work in Tripoli and would send back cases of oranges. For a child in communist Poland, oranges were like something extraordinary from outer space, because we could not see them or buy them. I took them to school; we drew paintings of them; we made marmalade out of the peel. We talked about Libya, looked at it on the map and thought of it as some sort of paradise because it had these exotic fruits that we in communist Poland could not have. That is why I became chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Libya in 2006, shortly after being elected.
I then decided to write a book on Colonel Gaddafi. It is in my office; I forgot to bring it, but I wish I had. I wrote that book about Libya because I was extremely concerned about the rapprochement that Mr Blair, the then Labour Prime Minister, was implementing in trying to bring Gaddafi in from the cold. We all remember the scenes of Mr Blair smiling with Colonel Gaddafi in the tent outside Tripoli. I felt that that was the wrong approach, bearing in mind all our outstanding issues with Colonel Gaddafi. Simply to bring him in from the cold without dealing with those issues was, I think, wrong. More importantly, the Arab world thought it was wrong. Colonel Gaddafi was perceived as a recalcitrant, unstable and highly unreliable individual within the Arab world and among Arab leaders. For the United Kingdom to have so clearly bent over backwards to accommodate this man was felt to be inappropriate by many in the Arab world at the time.
I tried to campaign on the issue with the then Labour Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. I got absolutely nowhere, which is why I decided to write the book. I have to say it was a fascinating experience. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) says, there are so many outstanding issues that were left unresolved. Lockerbie, the worst terrorist atrocity on UK soil, was a result of Colonel Gaddafi sponsoring the bombing of the airliner over Scotland in 1988. There is also the funding and sending of Semtex to the IRA. However, the most poignant issue that I came across during the time I was writing the book was the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher in St James’s Square, just outside the Libyan embassy. When I go through the square now, I still pause for a moment in front of the beautiful plaque that commemorates her.
PC Yvonne Fletcher was a serving police officer who was guarding a demonstration outside the Libyan People’s Bureau when somebody from the embassy shot her. I have met PC Murray, who was at the scene and was with PC Fletcher in the ambulance as she was taken to hospital. He has led a decades-long campaign to find PC Yvonne Fletcher’s killer and have him brought to justice here in the United Kingdom. For her memory as a serving police officer, we must continue to raise the issue in the House of Commons.
The revolution came in 2011, one year after I wrote my book. I remember February 2011 so well: we had wall-to-wall coverage on our television screens of the revolution that started in Tobruk and swept across the whole of Libya. In the House of Commons, the scenario was that this disaster was happening and that something had to be done about it. I am not prone to criticising Conservative politicians, but I will on this occasion. Mr Cameron, the then Conservative Prime Minister, intervened; he planned the invasion with Monsieur Hollande, the French President, on the back of a fag packet, without any consideration. It is easy to kill the dictator, but what happens when we cut off the head? All the tentacles collapse. Like the hon. Member for Leeds North East, I have been to Libya on many occasions. The country was almost a carbon copy of President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: everything—all the apparatus across the country—was controlled by one party and one man.
I remember well that we were whipped to vote for the invasion. From memory, I think that just a handful of Conservative MPs rebelled, and I very much regret that I was not one of them. The Conservative MPs who rebelled against Mr Cameron absolutely got it right, because there was not enough planning for the invasion of Libya. We bombed Libya back to the stone age. It is very easy to take on somebody like Colonel Gaddafi, who had obsolete Soviet-era equipment, poor radar and tanks and all the rest of it, but we bombed Libya with very little thought as to what would follow.
I asked to see Mr Cameron two or three days before Colonel Gaddafi was killed. I went to his office. I knew he was not listening to a word I was saying, because throughout the whole conversation he was signing bottles of House of Commons Scotch for raffle and auction prizes. One rather knows that somebody is not listening when, while one tries to raise important issues with them, they are doing a secondary task—signing their name on bottles of Scotch. [Interruption.] This is my book on Colonel Gaddafi, which I wrote in 2010; I spent over two years writing it.
I asked Mr Cameron, “What is going to happen to Colonel Gaddafi?” We all know how Gaddafi was killed: a convoy was leaving Sirte for the desert, and British and French military intelligence, in collaboration with the militants, got him in the tunnel and he was killed. Of course, he had to be killed. Some people said that he had to be silenced—that he knew too much. The hon. Member for Leeds North East will remember the allegations about all the funding from Colonel Gaddafi to Monsieur Sarkozy; apparently Gaddafi gave Sarkozy millions of dollars for political campaigns. He had to be silenced. I will never forget the words that Mr Cameron said to me. He sort of metaphorically patted me on the head and said, “Nothing to worry about—it’s all in hand, old boy.” Two or three days later, Colonel Gaddafi was killed.
I am no apologist for Colonel Gaddafi. He was a brutal, evil dictator who suppressed his own people, and my book chronicles the extraordinary human rights abuses that he implemented against his own people in Libya. Nobody here will shed a tear that Colonel Gaddafi is no longer running Libya or able to suppress his own people, but the reason I raise it is that we have to think about the mistakes we are making as a nation, whether that is in Iraq or Libya. Certainly in my time as a Member of Parliament, every time we have intervened in an Arab nation, rather than leaving it to the Arab League or the Arab people, and killed the dictator, what has ensued? Total chaos, total paralysis, internecine warfare, and brutality and killing that one could argue is of even greater consequence and destabilisation than what took place under the dictator. I very much hope that future generations of Members of Parliament will learn from our experiences and the mistakes we have made.
When I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee in that brief Parliament from 2015 to 2017, there was an attempt to investigate Mr Cameron. There was an attempt at that stage to investigate how he had brought us to intervene in Libya, but in reality it got us nowhere and little was done.
I would like to put it on the record how deeply disappointing it is that so few Members of Parliament are here. There is not one Conservative Member in this Chamber apart from the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). Bearing in mind our responsibility as a party and as a Government for the intervention in that country and the extraordinary misery that the Libyan people continue to experience as a result, that is a very bad show from my party.
I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East for bringing the debate here. Despite all the difficulties we are seeing in Israel and the Gaza strip and in Ukraine, we must not forget about Libya. These are our neighbours in the underbelly of the Mediterranean—in a country now being used, as a result of our intervention, for the massive trafficking of people from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya to Lampedusa and beyond. As British parliamentarians, particularly after our intervention in that country, we have a duty and a responsibility to continue to help the people of Libya.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. This is an unusual experience, because I cannot remember the last time that I looked over my shoulder and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was not there. Perhaps we should send out a search party.
I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for securing the debate and for his thoughtful and considered opening speech. He is absolutely right that Libya’s proximity to Europe makes what happens there relevant to us and to our neighbours. What he said was echoed by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski): we have a responsibility to Libya, to what goes on there and to putting it right. As the hon. Member for Leeds North East said, the political chaos that we are seeing—with two Governments, two Assemblies and an assortment of warlords battling for control of and access to Libya’s vast resources—makes this a pressing problem. We cannot ignore the political chaos in Libya that affects the everyday lives of ordinary Libyan people.
This debate is also important because, perhaps understandably in the light of what has happened elsewhere in the past few days and weeks, the tragic events of 10 September in Derna seem a long time ago. But the people of Derna will live with that tragedy every single day and will have to live with it for a long time. It is absolutely right today that when we talk about Libya, we take the time to consider what happened in Derna, why it happened and what we, as the United Kingdom, can do to help in providing humanitarian aid to help those people to rebuild their shattered lives. Indeed, that goes beyond Derna to the whole of Libya.
I therefore thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East for giving us the opportunity to have today’s debate. He is absolutely right that what we are seeing in Derna is almost a microcosm of the failed state of Libya. It has all the hallmarks of that failed state: the presence of foreign mercenaries, which he talked about, and the export of international terrorism, as we have suffered to our grave cost on these shores. Those are a result of that failed state.
I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for bringing up the memory of Yvonne Fletcher. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) has campaigned passionately in this House never to allow Yvonne Fletcher’s memory to be forgotten and has ceaselessly campaigned for justice.
As we have said, Libya is a failed state, and what we see in Derna and in that devastating flood was caused by a mixture of climate change and systematic neglect of infrastructure. Officially, we are told that there are 4,000 dead, but the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes that it is more than 11,000. There are still 10,000 people missing, 40,000 people displaced with nowhere to go, and 20,000 people living without basic sanitation and hygiene. The city’s infrastructure was torn apart, with 120 schools damaged, a similar number of health facilities put out of action, and 11,000 buildings either damaged or completely destroyed. The scale of the disaster is unimaginable, and rebuilding Derna is a real challenge.
There is an understandable anger among the people there, because they are the ones having to live with the consequences of this failed state—of not having a functioning Government. Little wonder, then, that they rose up as much as they could—Libyan citizens, civil society groups and human rights defenders—and lodged a petition calling on the international community to establish an investigation into why this happened, to identify the culprits and to bring them to justice.
Those demands come as the Libyan officials are trying to dismiss what happened as purely an effect of climate change. Of course climate change played a part, but so did systematic neglect and the consequences of a completely failed political system. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, a decision was taken— I think his quote was “We bombed Libya back to the stone age”—without a thought as to what would happen subsequently. Well, this is what happens when things like that happen without any thought for the future.
A decade or more of armed conflict between rival authorities and the collapse of the dam in Derna are not separate issues. The war has eroded national institutions, the infrastructure of the state has gone, and the economy is in chaos. That is leaving people vulnerable and exposed, particularly to the effects of extreme climate change. Some $2 million went to support and maintain the dam at Derna. At a time of dire political chaos, in all likelihood that money was never spent on civil infrastructure. Even at the collapse of the dam, the United Nations could not get its people into Derna to help with the aid relief. The Libyan authorities even refused entry to a UN team who had gone to try to help. That is the reality for people living in Derna and in Libya at the moment.
We must understand that we have a responsibility. There are consequences of localised or national instability, but also global considerations, which the United Kingdom must address if it is to help the most vulnerable people, particularly in the face of a climate emergency. As always, climate change bites harder at those who are least responsible for its creation, and what we have seen in Libya is the all too painful reality caused by political insecurity and instability. We must take responsibility. If we do not, the situation in Libya is only going to get worse.
The hon. Member for Leeds North East talked about the people-smuggling and drug-smuggling—all products of a failed state. We and our young people will suffer when that reaches our shore. We must tackle this at source, and that means investing properly in the future of Libya. We can never again get to a situation where we decide on regime change without a single thought or consideration for what it will mean further down the line. We must understand and see that what happened and what we did in Libya were not consequence-free. We are living with that at the moment.
In the time I have left, I will make the point that all this leads back to the real-life consequence of the Government’s decision to slash their overseas aid budget. We are no longer at the forefront of countries giving support to African nations. When the Government look back on their decision to cut the 0.7% target, they really must ask themselves whether it was worth it. We are living with the consequences of that decision right now. The aid budget has never been more needed, as people’s lives are being torn apart by war, by the consequences of climate disaster and, as I said, by living in a failed state. That might be a debate for another day.
I urge the Government to make assisting the people of Libya, and getting as much stability as possible, one of their main priorities. If they do not, we will live with the consequences for a long time to come.
I associate myself with the comments made earlier about the situation we face in Israel and Gaza. I think I speak for everybody when I say that our hearts go out to those people who have lost their lives and to those people who may, sadly, lose their lives in the near future. We must do everything we can to secure peace in that troubled area.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing this important debate and on the incredibly knowledgeable and sensitive way in which he introduced it. He is a friend and colleague, and I know full well how much work he has done in this subject area over a long period of time. We really value and respect his knowledge. We have also heard about the background to where we are today; I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for the information he gave us, and I will cite him. I promise him that I will buy a copy of his book and read it as well.
Since the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, we have seen conflict and division in Libya. We have seen the involvement of foreign forces, and the Wagner Group is still present and holds territory. We have seen a ceasefire in the country and it is good that that ceasefire is largely holding, but we have nevertheless seen tremendous instability and insecurity for some time. I was mindful of the situation when I read a report by an international consultancy that was written earlier this month. I will quote from it because it is an accurate summary of the situation:
“The security situation will likely remain unstable nationwide…primarily due to intermittent fighting and armed clashes between various rival militia groups across the country. Competing governmental institutions, as well as geopolitical rivalries, have profoundly complicated the security situation in Libya. Kidnapping incidents, political assassinations, criminal activity, and clashes between opposing militia groups are the most severe problems.”
But that is not all. There is also growing instability in the south of the country because of the instability in the Sahel region. Militant organisations are developing there and intruding into Libya, causing further instability and worsening the migration crisis that so many countries in southern Europe face. That is the backdrop to the terrible disaster that occurred in the aftermath of Storm Daniel. We all saw the terrible scenes on our television screens following the breaking of two dams in the Derna valley. Estimates are still unclear, but some say that as many as 20,000 people may have lost their lives. Bodies are continually being recovered, and 48,000 people have been displaced in the region.
There are various suggestions as to why the dams broke, but it is clear to me that, despite international assistance, those dams had not been serviced properly and there was no insurance to make them safe. That is indicative of the malaise in the country. We also saw that in the difficulty with the international response to the disaster. It was evident that the governmental infrastructure was not in place to provide the framework for the international community to effectively deliver and administer aid.
We need a strong road map to bring a degree of political stability and democracy to the country. Just a few years ago, we saw efforts to create a road map. It was pencilled in that there should be presidential elections in December 2021. It is extremely disappointing that, despite the hopes at the time, those aspirations came to nothing and there were no direct elections. Since then, the instability has continued. It is extremely important that the United Kingdom, especially as it is a penholder on Libya at the United Nations, does everything possible to ensure that there is patience, stability, tenacity and, above all, hope for a political settlement and for elections to be held in the not-too-distant future.
I read the comments of the British permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Barbara Woodward, with great interest and some hope. She said in a debate on Libya at the Security Council in June that it is important that the international community do everything it can to bring about “stability” and a “clear road map”. She stated that it was therefore necessary to have more discussions among as many stakeholders as possible, and with the ordinary people themselves, to ensure that that road map had a large measure of support across the country. She also mentioned, correctly, that that was the hope of ordinary people in Libya. It is all too easy to forget what is vital for ordinary people’s livelihood and, indeed, survival, but there is a coherent political framework. We tend to focus too much on political elites and what is appropriate for the so-called political class, when it is the people we should always be concerned about.
It is equally important that when we talk about a political framework, we do not talk in abstractions. Politics in Libya, perhaps more than in any other country currently, is about creating a framework for the people, to allow them to live their lives properly in peace and security. The ambassador cited her visit to Libya when she was taken to a World Health Organisation health centre project, partly funded by the United Kingdom. Despite all the difficulties surrounding that project, it is successful. There has been a British contribution of $2.5 million. The project is important because it symbolises hope for the country. It offers the chance of proper healthcare, antenatal checks, dental treatment, primary care and much else besides. But for projects like that to flourish, a strong, coherent political framework is necessary.
I hope very much that the Minister can give a firm commitment that Britain will stay the course and that we will give support for as long as it takes to ensure that there is a political road map that leads to democratic elections. The days when we can think that what happens in one country some way away is of no relevance to us in this country are long gone. We live in a global community. What happens in one country, practically as well as morally, has an impact on our life in this country, so I hope that the Minister is able to reaffirm the British Government’s commitment to ensuring that there is a coherent, well-supported road map that will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future.
As always, Ms McDonagh, it is an honour to see you in the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing this debate. He has a wealth of knowledge on things international, particularly in the middle east. It is very unusual to see him in his current seat—I normally associate him with the Front Bench opposite me—but reshuffles are what they are.
I welcome the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) to his place, and I welcome his wise words on these important issues. It is good to hear that views are generally shared across the Chamber. There is a real responsibility to help the situation in Libya, and I assure the hon. Member that we are absolutely committed to that task.
As the whole House heard from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Monday, following the absolutely abhorrent attacks on Israel, the Government are doing all they can to prevent instability spreading in the region. I therefore welcome even more the opportunity to debate our work on Libya in that context. Like other Members, I send my condolences and those of His Majesty’s Government to Israelis who have lost loved ones in the terrible attacks and to Palestinian people who are suffering. I am also very mindful of those here in the UK who feel threatened, whether by antisemitism or anti-Muslim views. This is a time for calm and for us to hold on to the British values of tolerance and mutual respect. I hope that that will continue over the days and weeks ahead.
I am grateful to Members for their contributions to this important debate and will seek to respond to their points. An inclusive, representative political dialogue is the only way to overcome the current impasse in Libya. The UK fully backs a Libyan-led, UN-facilitated political process, which offers the best route to peace and stability. Elections remain a clear goal, and addressing the obstacles that prevented them from taking place in December 2021 is key to getting Libya back on track. The UK is using our position as UN Security Council penholder and working alongside international partners to support the UN mission in Libya. It is clear from the response to the recent devastating floods that the status quo cannot deliver what the Libyan people need. The political impasse threatens stability in Libya and in the broader region, and the people of Libya are losing out every day.
Libya, as a country with enviable human and economic resources—as spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski)—has the potential to be a global competitor on issues from healthcare to education, and a political settlement would unlock that potential. We also recognise the important role that a stable Libya could play, as a regional partner, in helping to address challenges from climate change to irregular migration, which has been mentioned a couple of times. The UK therefore supports initiatives on economic development and investment. UK and Libyan businesses have long worked hand in hand, with large volumes of trade between our two nations, totalling £1.5 billion in the past year. A thriving private sector can support stability, drive growth, create jobs and diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil revenues.
Although the UK and the international community are doing what we can, the onus must be, and is, on Libya’s leaders to fulfil their responsibilities, to uphold peace and security, and to find a lasting and inclusive political settlement. We engage with them regularly, encouraging them to work constructively with UN Special Representative Bathily as he seeks to facilitate a political agreement to address the underlying issues that prevent elections. The hard-working and dedicated team in our embassy in Tripoli also engage with a wide range of political actors and civil society organisations to encourage inclusive dialogue and negotiations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham reminded us about important points of history, and I am sure his book sales will do even better given the considered and important points that he made. I re-emphasise that the priority of our embassy remains building and sustaining strong and enduring partnerships in all parts of the country. The official reopening of the British embassy in 2022 was a demonstration of the strength of our relationship with the whole of Libya. The UK has played and continues to play a central role in supporting Libya on its path to becoming a more democratic and stable country. As I said to the hon. Member for Caerphilly, we are absolutely committed to continuing that task.
Following our intervention in Libya, there are allegations that Haftar and his sons are committing serious human rights abuses against the people of Libya and are working with the Wagner Group. There is increasing Russian influence in eastern Libya. I very much hope that the Minister will address those points. At the very least—I have tabled written parliamentary questions on this—may we have an assurance from the British Government that sanctions will be placed on the Haftar regime if those people are proven to be carrying out abuses against their own citizens?
I thank my hon. Friend for those points. The UK is committed to ensuring that the Libyan sanctions regime set out in UN Security Council resolution 1970 is fit for purpose by working closely with the 1970 committee. We are negotiating UN sanctions mandate renewal, and we expect that resolution to be adopted soon. My hon. Friend makes an important point about sanctions.
Significant points were made on some of the legacy issues. WPC Fletcher’s death remains as shocking and senseless today as the day it occurred. I remember it well from the news reports at the time. It should not be forgotten.
The Lockerbie bombing was also referred to. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 was a completely brutal act of terrorism. This year, on its 35th anniversary—I cannot believe it has been that long—we remember that tragic event and all the lives that have been blighted by its impact.
I want to highlight the importance of ensuring that we counteract the work that other countries are doing to exploit the instability in Libya to further their own malign objectives. We have heard today about the influence of Russia. Our efforts to stabilise Libya have been particularly disrupted by the Wagner Group’s illegal actions in the country. We condemn the Russian Government and the Wagner Group for those actions, which are a clear violation of international law and the UN charter, and we call for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters in the region. The UK will continue to work with international partners to strengthen Libya’s security institutions and combat extremism in the country. That includes supporting the development of national security institutions to ensure that they serve the interests of the Libyan people.
Libya has also been plagued by landmines and other explosives—the legacy of war. They not only pose a deadly risk to civilians, but hinder reconstruction and economic recovery. The UK has supported efforts to dispose of more than 6,000 mines, clear more than 400,000 square miles of minefields in the east—these are extraordinary figures—and train the first all-female de-mining team in Sirte.
As the hon. Members for Caerphilly and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) highlighted, the devastating floods have recently made a dire situation even worse. Many thousands of people have lost their lives, families have been torn apart and critical infrastructure, including hospitals and clean water supplies, has been badly damaged. The UN announced on 16 October that humanitarian assistance, provided by more than 24 humanitarian organisations, has now reached more than 146,000 people in need of support and basic services. I am pleased to see that report, because in the urgent question that some of us were involved in a few weeks ago concern was expressed about whether aid and support would reach the frontline.
The UK responded quickly with lifesaving aid. On 16 September, we announced a package worth up to £10 million to respond both to the floods in Libya and to the earthquake in Morocco. That built on the £1 million allocated in response to the floods on 13 September, and we have also committed £2 million to the UN’s flash appeal. On top of that, the UN announced $10 million from its central emergency response fund, to which the UK is one of the largest donors. UK-funded aid to Libya has provided emergency shelter to 14,000 people, 800 portable solar lanterns, and water filters and hygiene kits for 10,000 people. We have also supported the deployment of three mobile medical teams to provide primary healthcare in flood-affected areas.
We have been clear with key stakeholders in Libya that reconstruction, which was also talked about in the debate, must include institutions from both the west and the east, with full transparency and oversight of the funding by reputable international institutions. We have also allocated £6 million towards the Libya conflict, stability and security fund programme this year, which is facilitating peace-building efforts. That includes developing community-level councils, supporting civil society organisations and collaborating with Chatham House to help key Libyan institutions to become more accountable and transparent.
The UK continues to stand firm in our support for peace and stability in Libya. The UN-facilitated, Libyan-led political process offers the best hope of achieving that, alongside our wider diplomatic, humanitarian and economic development work. Members can be assured that we will do all we can to continue to help the victims of the floods and to support reconstruction, and we will continue to work closely with international partners and leaders in-country to help the people of Libya on their path towards a better and brighter future in the years ahead.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, but I echo what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) said: it is sad that there are not more Members here from both sides of the House, because Libya matters. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) for his contribution as SNP spokesperson, and of course to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who wound up the debate on behalf of the Opposition.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for his incredibly deep knowledge, based on the research for his book. We all remember him writing it; it took him two years. He must have the deepest, most profound knowledge about Libya of any Member of this House. I did not know the history of his connection with Libya through his uncle and aunt during communist times in Poland—those dark days when to see an orange was something that brought joy and hope to everybody.
I hope that Libya can be re-established sooner rather than later as a country with a functioning democracy, Government and economy, because only therein lies the hope for not just the Libyan people, but the whole region. As every Member has said this morning, Libya matters not just to Libyans, but to all of us in Europe and across the region, so we need to work doubly hard. Peter Millett and others who advised me for this debate told me that Britain, above almost every other European country, is respected widely in Libya. We need to use that connection and friendship, and the contacts that the Minister explained are already being used for the benefit of both Britain and Libya, even harder to make sure that the country is reconstructed.
The worst thing about Libya that I have discovered, over years of studying it, is that countries across Europe and the region and across the world have interfered for their own selfish reasons and agendas and have made the situation far, far worse. We need to bring those nations together and say, “Stop. It’s time you stopped and let the Libyans themselves decide what their future will be, gave them aid accordingly and helped in every way to reconstruct that country.” Only when Libya is reconstructed will it take its place once again among the nations of this world and serve its people as it truly should. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly made that point extremely strongly.
I have already thanked Peter Millett and the House of Commons Library, but I also pay tribute to the UK diplomats who are back in Tripoli once again—that is something that Peter was not able to do when he was our ambassador—for the work that they are doing. They need to be strengthened. I know that the Minister has been listening, and I know that the UK Government want to do this.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered support for stability in Libya.