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Chemical Weapon Precursors: Libya

Volume 614: debated on Monday 5 September 2016

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, and I wish to make a joint statement about the significant contribution that Her Majesty’s Government have made to international efforts to ensure the safe destruction of precursor chemicals from Libya’s historic chemical weapons programme.

Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed under international supervision and verification by 2014. However, a quantity of precursor chemicals remained in Libya. The international community was concerned about the risks that, in the current security situation, these chemicals might be acquired and misused by non-state actors. Earlier this year, the Libyan Government of National Accord asked for support from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the international community to remove the remaining chemicals from Libya and to destroy them in a safe and timely manner in a third country. The UK has played a major role in co-ordinating international efforts to assist Libya and the OPCW to achieve this, including in the UN Security Council and with practical steps.

On 22 July, I voted on behalf of the UK in the UN Security Council for authority to be given for the chemicals to be removed from Libya for destruction in another country. Subsequently, the Danish Government asked the UK to provide a naval escort to support Denmark’s operation to ship the chemicals out of Libya.

The Secretary of State for Defence agreed to provide support, in the same way as the Royal Navy supported Denmark and Norway in the operation to remove chemical weapons from Syria in 2014. During late August, RFA Mounts Bay escorted the Danish task group from Libya through the Mediterranean.

In order to enable the safe transport and destruction of the Libyan chemicals, and to provide verification assistance to the OPCW, experts at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down were tasked to analyse samples of the chemicals. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has contributed some £500,000 to support both the analysis and destruction of the chemicals.

The UK’s contribution to this task is now almost complete. The chemicals are being taken to a specialist facility in a third country, where they will be safely destroyed.

In close co-operation with our international partners—notably Denmark, Germany and the US, who contributed significant funding to the overall destruction effort, as well as with the OPCW—the UK has taken practical and effective action to eliminate chemical weapon risks in Libya. This reinforces our collective commitment to the people and Government of Libya, and, ultimately, to all of us who want to live in a world free from chemical weapons.