Parliament debates Libya: what Liberal Democrat MPs have been saying

Here are some selections from today’s debate in Parliament so far on the United Nations resolution on Libya and subsequent military action which touch on the questions of international law, the Liberal Democrat position, what is happening in other countries and the question of Iraq:

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):In view of the obviously barbaric attacks by Gaddafi on his own people, does the Prime Minister agree that those officials and military chiefs who are still standing firm with Gaddafi stand every chance of being hauled before the war crimes tribunal?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The first resolution we passed—1970—specifically referred to the International Criminal Court. The message we should give today, very clearly, to those people still working or fighting for Gaddafi is that if you continue to do so, you could end up in front of the International Criminal Court, and now is the time to put down your weapons, walk away from your tanks, and stop obeying orders from this regime…

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD):The legal note that accompanies the debate makes it clear that the Security Council resolution recognises that Libya

“constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”

Although I do not recommend that we take such action, from the point of view of consistency, why are we not taking action against Yemen?

The Prime Minister: We are obviously extremely disturbed by what is happening in Yemen, particularly recent events. We urge every country in that region to respond to the aspirations of its people with reform, not repression. We have a specific situation in Libya, whereby there was a dictator whose people were trying to get rid of him, who responded with armed violence in the streets. The UN has reached a conclusion and I think that we should back it. As I said the other day, just because we cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean we should not do it when we have clear permission for and a national interest in doing so. One commentator put it rather well at the weekend: “Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess?” That is an interesting way of putting it.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD):May I express from the Liberal Democrat Benches our strong support for the resolution and the Government’s action? Clearly, the position is different from Iraq. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need to internationalise the mission as far as possible to cement support across the international community should things not run entirely tidily and also so as not to over-extend our forces?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to internationalise the action to the maximum degree possible on the military front and in what must follow in humanitarian aid and assistance to the people in Libya.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Iraq and I want to deal with the way in which we will ensure that this is not another Iraq. My answer is clear: the UN resolution, which we, with the Lebanese, the US and the French, helped draft, makes it clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Libya. The resolution authorises and sets the limit on our action. It excludes an occupation force in any form on any part of Libyan territory.

However, I would argue that the differences from Iraq go deeper. It is not just that this time, the action has the full, unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations nor that it is backed by Arab countries and a broad international coalition, but that millions in the Arab world want to know that the UN, the US, the UK, the French and the international community care about their suffering and their oppression.

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  • The UN gave no authority for regime change.

    Despite the Chief of Defence staff saying explicitly that we we’re not going to attack Gaddafi, today Cameron contradicted him. If your aim is to attack and kill Gaddafi that makes it regime change whether you like it or not.

    The rebels in the east are already saying they want close air support and other military help far further than a no fly zone, though the continued waves of bombing everything in sight and cruise misssile strikes makes it very obvious that this is far more than a no fly zone anyway.

    This is a civil war and nobody, not even the goverment and Cameron’s biggest cheerleaders, have the faintest idea how long this culd last and what the actual war aims are.

    Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
    The public is not going to stand for months if not years of another middle eastern quagmire like Afghanistan and Iraq with no end in sight.

  • @ Niklas Smith

    A fair point and partly down to my poor choice of wording. They aren’t just saying they want it, they’re saying they need it to keep fighting overturn Gaddafi. Which again brings us to the central point about regime change.

    Though to be fair the eastern rebels are pretty chaotic and talk of partitioning the country between east and west already in military circles gives you some idea of just how messy this could get. When those same military figures and some politicians are talking about being in this for “the long haul” alarm bells should be ringing for those who remember the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Philip Young 21st Mar '11 - 11:36pm

    Having travelled throughout Libya recently, I’m all for it. I was with the rest in being vehemently opposed to the invasion of Iraq on the flimsy reasoning offered – this is different. We couldnt just sit back and watch tanks, and missiles, being lobbed into those brave enough to get involved in the uprising, and the threats about hitting back at the west by Lockerbie-style terrorist activities was rhetoric that was pretty hard to stomach. Perhaps now there is a bit more of a level playing field. Ming’s speach to the House clipped for tonight’s news programmes summed it up nicely.

    But if this had happened in a few months time, we wouldnt be able to offer much at all…30 Hercules have been cut up, and Tornado pilots have been told they are to get their P45s. The Cumberland is sailing around the Med on borrowed time, when it was supposed to go to the scrap yard.

    We can’t ignore the humanitarian crisis as the refugees in their thousands would turn up in Europe – and still might. And we cant ignore the oil equation either. Libya is the third largest oil producer in Africa, and two thirds of this output was going to Europe.

  • Did anyone hear any calls for a NFZ in Gaza mentioned during the debate?

    @Philip Young

    Saddam Hussein was a far more brutal dictator than Gaddafi has ever been, yet you vehemently opposed action against his regime?

  • Even I’m surprised at how quickly this is falling into chaos with huge disagreements between countries on whether it should be NATO in charge or not on top of all the contradictory statements about whethere Gaddafi is a legitimate target, whether the Arab League still supports this and what the actual aim of the conflict is.

    Afghanistan and Iraq are proof that it’s very easy to get into a war but incredibly difficult to get out of one.

  • John Basil

    Sorry, but I can’t help wondering whether you’ve actually read the UN Resolution. It’s here if you want to see it:

    If you read it, you’ll see that it’s not at all limited to a “no-fly zone,” but that it authorises “all necessary measures … to protect civilians.” It must be obvious to anyone who’s been following events in Libys even casually that this must include action against ground-based armoured forces and artillery.

  • @RedOrange
    Sorry, but I can’t help wondering whether you’ve actually been listening to the debate and the arguments put forward by our government for the past few weeks. Your leader, Cameron, has been selling the idea of a no-fly zone to the electorate, but what we have on the very first night of hostilities are co-ordinated attacks against ground forces that have nothing to do with setting up a no-fly zone (attacking tanks, infantry, etc). I don’t care about UN resolutions; I care about the integrity of our politicians and whather we can maintain the argument for taking action with the wider world. By attacking ground targets and by talking of regime change and targetted political assasination of a head of state, our government has already lost the support of large sections of the international commmunity and of the electorate (49% are against the war – a figure that will increase with time).

    It is quite clear that Hague (in addition to sounding even more incompetent by talking about political assasination) underestimated the ability of Gaddafi to continue fighting with his absurd wishful thinking that he had fled. The government is now underestimating Gaddafis willingness to continue fighting to the bitter end and the support he has amongst the population (even if some of that ‘support’ is forced through fear). That support will only increase now tthat bombs are falling on Libya – there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a significant number of Libyans are against the coalition’s actions.

    The absurd simplicity of this government’s understanding of the situation, together with their impetuous, conceited nature is far more disturbing than the behaviour of the last government in prosecuting its wars. Public support is already very thin and understandably anxious against a background of the misery being created by the cuts and the ideologically driven agenda that has no mandate. What’s particularly distirbing is the lack of opposition across the parties in the vote last night. I can’t think of a single occassion in my lifetime where the commons has been less representative of the views of the electorate. It does not bode well for the future prospects of mainstream politics. The rise of the more extremist parties now seems inevitable.

    It’s quite clear to me now that Lib Dem opposition to Iraq had nothing to do with any arguments about the case for war, or the likely benefits weighed up against the likely cost in casualties and money; the opposition was simply about your hatred of Labour and nothing more than cheap party political point scoring, as that’s all you’ve done since you formed this coalition.

  • Patrick Smith 22nd Mar '11 - 7:40am

    My question to our L/D MPs, including the redoubtable Bob Russell is and the Defence Secretary is:

    `Will the `Coalition Government’ ensure that it delivers fully all six parts of the `Military Covenant’ for all serving and ex-serving personnel and their families,as demanded by the RBL’?

  • RedOrange

    And I can’t help wondering if you have understood the resolution.
    Because armed rebels are not civilians and no matter how hard Cameron or anyone else tries to stretch or parse the meaning of that text it gives no authorirty for regime change by any means. Including attacking Gaddafi as Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff correctly said yesterday.

    The resolution allows action against ground based forces and artillary to protect civilians but that isn’t a blank cheque to bomb anything that moves.
    And if you have been following all the latest developments you would realise that the confusion and disagreement among all the countries instigated by different interpretations of that passage, as to what is an acceptable no fly zone and what is a pretty blatant push at regime change, is causing almost as much chaos as to whether NATO will be in charge or not.

    If this is the amount of confusion at the top after a mere couple of days imagine what it’s going to be like after a few months.

    The eastern tribal rebels might be armed but they are nowhere near a coherent fighting force or a majority. So anybody who thinks they will be marching on Tripoli any time soon is deluding themselves, though not as much as anyone who thinks UN resolution 1973 allows the UK, French, US or anyone else to use their aircraft and missiles to help rebels fight a civil war.

  • John Basil

    I was responding to your previous statement that “rebels in the east are already saying they want close air support and other military help far further than a no fly zone.”

    In fact, as you now acknowledge, “The resolution allows action against ground based forces and artillary to protect civilians.” Obviously that was my point.

  • RedOrange

    And my point was protecting civiians is obviously not the same close air support for armed rebels nor does the U.N. resolution 1974 allow it. The type of help the rebels want and say they need to topple Gaddafi isn’t just further than a no fly zone, it’s further than this no fly zone even with the caveats contained in it.

  • Apologies for the typo. resolution 1973 not 74

  • Will the coalition protect innocent civilians who support Gaddafi if the rebels start killing them? It seems that the UN is giving them air cover to advance. Who is leading them? Oh yes those who have defected from Gaddaffi who were also involved in atrocities.
    I am still angry over seeing Osborne laughing during the debate, whatever he was laughing about it was inappropriate and just shows up what an awful man he is.

  • That should be a major concern as well, civilians in rebel areas; if it turns out that civilians were killed by rebels the coalition must also bear some responsibility as well, I don’t think it is as clean cut as our politicians are making out.

    I think that is why the USA is getting out asap, essentially to limit their involvement and possible repercussions.

    I think we jumped in too early and any attacks on ground forces by the coalition must be on both sides, if the rebels move out and head towards other towns/cities are the coalition going to bomb the rebels to protect civilians, it will be an interesting line to draw if the coalition don’t, then that opens another barrel of worms.

    I would like to know what it is costing us and how we are paying for this, if it turns out that the “rebels” are going to meet some of the cost once it is over, does that not make us mercs.

    Afterwards we will have an enquiry, wont we?

    Or 3 or 4 just to be sure…

  • How are we paying for this adventure when we have been repeatedly told that “there is no money left” and the most important thing to do is deficit reduction?

    Why won’t our party’s MPs tell us what additional cuts they are going to have to make to pay for this war?

    How convenient that this has pushed NHS privatisation out of the news!

  • I agree wholeheartedly with Steve’s comments. So much for “A new kind of politics” – this looks worse every day. Ming Campbell’s speech was the worst semantic squirming I’ve ever heard, it was frankly painful to watch.

    I just wonder, do we actually know anything about the rebels and what kind of Libya they want? Let’s hope the “freedom” they’re seeking isn’t just the freedom to replace one bunch of despots with another.

    After all the breast-beating over Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve also been astonished by the unquestioning media coverage. Sunday’s YouGov poll showed 69% support for “Enforcing a no-fly zone so Libyan air force cannot attack rebels or civilians”. Note the question doesn’t exactly reflect the reality of what’s happening. The other questions covered providing arms to rebels (17% support), sending special forces to “guide” rebels (26%) and sending ground troops to overthrow Gaddafi (16%). The House of Commons vote was so unrepresentative of what people actually think about this it’s unbelievable. At least the Commons vote in Iraq reflected the split in public opinion. It seems the media has decided this Tory coalition can do what it likes.

    Anne is also right about the inappropriate behaviour of George Osborne during the debate. Is there something wrong with the man? Let’s hope he can contain his mirth while delivering the budget, though I imagine it’ll be a struggle for him if he happens to catch Danny Alexander’s eye. Safe in the knowledge that his trashing of our economy will be buried by the news of Cameron’s overseas escapades, the best we can hope for is that he’ll die laughing.

    All thanks to the Lib Dems’ unwavering support.

  • Andrew George MP’s question of the Prime Minister was featured on Newsnight and can be seen, with his wider thoughts on the matter, here:

  • The situation on the ground in Libya is probably going to evolve into a full blown civil war over the next few weeks and months with no clear end in sight. Cameron is going to regret the decision to intervene using UK forces in the longer term. The German position on Libya is, I think, the stance the UK should have taken but the coalition government have fallen into the trap that Libya will prove to be. The situation will get far worse for all Libyans.

    I am waiting (with growing anger) for the airstrikes to commit their first “blue on blue” or worse bomb innocent civilians on either side of the lines. Tragically (for those on the receiving end of such an action) it will only be after such an incident that the true cost of our involvement will become apparent and when the Arab League will wash their hands of Libyan intervention altogether. Each morning when I put on the news I watch the fighters go off and know it is only a matter of time before such tragic circumstances will happen. At this point (if not already) every “fundamentalist” will be winging their way to Libya to fight the “Crusaders” knowing full well that if they help Gaddafi, he will fund their subsequent jihad actions on the west. Remember Lockerbie…

    The “rebels” are not equipped to fight a long protracted war of attrition with Government forces and unless the West starts arming the rebels then they will almost certainly run out of ammunition before the Government forces do.

    Of perhaps bigger concern are the humanitarian concerns for the civilians on the rebels side. Basic considerations such as water and food will determine the rebels future more quickly than a lack of arms and ammunition with a sure humanitarian crisis as bad as the targeting of “rebel” civilians in the first place.

    UK troops (special forces) are already on the ground and will have been for some days prior to the start of military action by UK. You can’t rely on rebels ringing up on the good old “Nokia” to call in precision airstrikes, it just does not happen that way. The SAS/Diplomatic incident was probably a well planned smokescreen to get assets in place to plan for airstrikes and get the “spotters” on the ground. There will be a whole different war going on behind closed doors in UK government. “Spooks” will be all over Libya.

    We should have not got involved in Libya and instead forced the Arab League to sort out the problem in the UN. Libyan intervention is looking more and more about the oil contracts and Gaddafi’s inconsistent attitude to sharing out the returns of the oil revenue with the big oil corporations. Europe is the main recipient of Libyan oil production and this goes some way to explain Cameron and Sarkozy pushing for intervention in the UN under the smokescreen of a “humanitarian” mission. The Americans are determined that when the merde hits the fan Europe gets well covered and covered we will be…

  • John Basil

    “The type of help the rebels want and say they need to topple Gaddafi isn’t just further than a no fly zone, it’s further than this no fly zone even with the caveats contained in it.”

    But as you’ve already acknowledged, it’s not a “no fly zone with caveats,” it’s “all necessary means” with a caveat about no occupation force.

    Obviously you’re trying to give people the impression that a no-fly zone is all that’s been authorised, so that you can claim that what’s happening is going beyond the authorisation. But it simply isn’t so.

  • @RedOrange

    It doesn’t matter what’s been authorised by the UN. What matters is that our politicians are honest with the electorate, otherwise there will be a need for a revolution in this Country also. Cameron has been talking about creating a no-fly zone for weeks, yet on the very first night of the attacks and before a vote in Parliament, Libyan ground forces are attacked and within the space of a few hours bumbling ministers are talking about the legality of the assassination of a Head of State. In the extremely unlikely event of such an assassination being ‘legal’ (we can’t now claim that the event of his death would be an ‘accident’), world opinion would turn very much against the UK, undermining the role of British forces in other conflicts and would likely fuel further terrorist atrocities against innocent British civilians.

    Apart from the issue of the dishonesty of our government, we have their seeming inability to understand:
    (a) the likely effects of war on opinion within Libya. The use of force plays into the hands of Gaddafi’s propaganda and may well increase his support.
    (b) that an increase in violence is likely to be accompanied with a decrease in transparancy as reporting from a war-zone becomes more difficult. The greater the level of violence, the greater the ability of Gaddafi’s supporters (and the rebels) to commit atrocities without being found out.
    (c) that the rebels may well just be nutters with guns.
    (d) that an increase in the level of violence is likely to lead to greater humanitarian problems.

    I find the naivity of our government worrying and I find the lack of representation of the electorate disturbing.

    I hope I’m wrong and Gaddafi flees the Country shortly, but I can’t see it happening.

  • David Allen 22nd Mar '11 - 5:03pm

    Perhaps the least worst option, given the imminent risk of a bloodbath in Benghazi, was to go in. And perhaps the least worst option now, given that the immediate threat has been averted, is to pull back out again.

  • RedOrange

    Even the most rabid neoconservative warmongering Tory or New Labour MPs aren’t trying to claim this is an untrammeled use of force resolution. It’s a no fly zone. Cameron sold it to the commons as a no fly zone. Every country that signed up to it says it’s a no fly zone. Every media, TV and newspaper description of it is as a no fly zone.
    Because it is a no fly zone.

    I repeat, a no fly zone with a caveat about “all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians “.
    The rebels fighting Gaddafi aren’t civilians and as the other posters have spotted this means if they attack or threaten to attack Gadaffi held civilian areas or civilians in the west then under this resolution those who signed up to it will have to use the same air strikes and all necessary means against the rebels.

    Obviously you’re trying to give people the impression that this no-fly zone authorises any and all use of force, so that you can claim that what’s happening isn’t going beyond the authorisation. But it simply isn’t so.

    The rebels aren’t going to be backed up in their fight with close air support because the U.N. resolution does not allow it any more than it allows regime change by targeting Gaddafi.
    And if any country oversteps the mark on the U.N. resolution it will fall to pieces because those in the international community that did support it did not sign up to supporting one side in a civil war nor did they sign up to regime change.
    That would leave Britain the US and France taking unilateral action in Libya outside of the U.N.
    And we all know how that will be greeted by a public already pretty hostile to this action and only set to get more hostile with every day that passes leaving the UK dragged smack into the middle another middle eastern quagmire and civil war.

  • Philip Young 23rd Mar '11 - 7:52am

    Anne wondered what it’s all costing. Well, the Saudi foreign minister was in Downing St yesterday and you can bet the first item on the agena for the fire-side chat with Cameron was “how much are you going to contribute to our effort” but leaving that aside for a moment, the answer is that a total of 112 missiles were fired on the first night of the action, and each Cruise missile costs £800,000, the Tomahawks fired from our two ships (the Cumberland being diverted from his sailing to the scrapyard) are also about the same. What we dont know is how many of these were fired by us, and what the Americans lobbed into the fray. The Tornados cost around £35,000 an hour to fly – they were refuelled three times in a round trip from RAF Mareham (uk to Libya and back to the uk), and on top of that is the cost of flying the tanker-operation.

    The Harriers are all about to be scrapped, 30 Hercules have been cut up so far, and other pilots have been told they are going to be made redundant, had all this happened in say three months time, we wouldn’t have been able to lift a finger, and the casualty rate among the innocent would have been considerably greater.

  • “What we dont know is how many of these were fired by us”

    We do. The American News media revealed 2 missiles were fired by Britain on the first night and more importantly the missile that hit Gaddafi’s residential compound was a British one. Which makes us in direct contravention of the U.N. resolution which gave no mandate for regime change by targeting Gaddafi. Something Cameron had to concede in the debate. The resolution “explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means”, Cameron said. Assassinating Gaddafi is also illegal unless he is personally involved in the battle fighting in a plane, tank or with his groundtroops and that isn’t going to happen.

    The coalition and military spinners are also trying to claim that the next phase could attack tanks in any circumstance when the U.N. resolution only allows them to do so if they are protecting civilians. Something even Cameron had to promise in the debate when he said “Let me say this about the issue of targets: targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. We therefore choose our targets to stop attacks on civilians and to implement the no-fly zone.”
    It’s self evident that attacking Gaddafi’s troops and armour when they are fighting armed rebels is not just breaking the U.N. resolution but taking sides in a civil war. No amount of spin will be able to disguise that as the weeks and months go on.

    For cost it’s in the tens of millions for a few weeks, it will reach a hundred million in a few months and if it goes on for years it’s going to be in the Billions. Wars always cost more than their cheerleaders conservative estimates at the beginning of them, as Iraq and Afghanistan proved.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Mar '11 - 11:23am

    The funny thing is that whereas when the Iraq invasion took place I was very uncertain of my position, I did not find it easy to join the “no” camp, here I am absolutely certain. We should not be doing this.

    There is one argument for this which to me dominates over all others – the paranoia and antagonism of the Muslim and Arab world. It seems to me to be quite certain that almost whatever we do, the leading figures and voices dominant in that world will turn it and use it against us. See how on Iraq there is almost no recognition at all in Muslim and Arab popular opinion of the nastiness of the dictator our action deposed, nor is there any acceptance of responsibility for a large share of the deaths and destruction on Muslim faction-fighting there, rather it is painted as if US/UK forces were 100% responsible for every death that has taken place there since the invasion. See now, how the Arab league, having given us the signal to intervene, turns against us and refuses to accept the consequences of that intervention. We can be sure now that in the Arab and Muslim world, any nastiness from Gaddafi will be played down and ignored, any of the consequences that are INEVITABLE from any sort of armed response will be played up and held against us as an indication of our evil nature and our contempt for Arab and Muslim people.

    For this reason, our non-intervention even in the face of Gaddafi’s cruelty to the people of his own country, which we know would be appalling if he overcame the rebels, should be clearly “Muslims and Arabs, their blood is on YOUR hands – we are leaving him to do it because you have told us we are evil people, and that as in Iraq any intervention to bring down even the most appalling dictator is wrong”.

  • True, in humanitarian terms, the rebels needed some sort of help but the UN resolution to defend civilians is not the attitude that our Government, and others, have been taken. When the so-called defenders of the civilians are actually killing civilians themselves, the very basis of the resolution is undermined and shows that we are, ourselves, doing harm.

    Not to mention the fact that this is further interventionism in an area of the world which we have little knowledge about and that some of our leaders are already making comments about removing Gaddafi etc.. This began as a revolution by the Libyan people against their dictatorship, and for this wave of revolution (which is clearly necessary) to continue naturally, the West must NOT get involved.

    The leaders (and past leaders) of this country have required absolutely minimal reasons to call on the Forces of Britain to exercise their military power around the world in thinly-veiled attempts to claim power over further areas of the world and to make themselves feel important strutting about the world stage. That does not mean that the Lib Dems should be dragged along with this gun-ho attitude to interventionism and, frankly, colonialism. It is, in my opinion, an absolute disgrace that the LDs did not even muster a single No vote in the Commons debate. The idea of fighting fire with fire should be above our MPs and yet now they are being shown to be just as aggressive as all the rest.

    New Politics? New Faces, more like.

  • Another thread on Libya ‘disappeared’. Is it me or do I smell a conspiracy here? ‘Most read’ feature still disabled. Other, older ones still there.

  • Philip Young 25th Mar '11 - 7:47am

    Anne: It might look like deliberate, but it’s probably not… if you want Libya kept on the front page of the forum perhaps you should start a new topic-page and do this every five or six days or so, otherwise it does seem that it becomes relegated to “older posts”.

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