David Blackburn

Cameron’s Libyan double standard

Cameron's Libyan double standard
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After the Libyan blood money scandal at the LSE, inquiries were bound to be made about other universities. Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, has exposed how Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) agreed to contracts with Gaddafi’s Libya worth at least £1,272,000.00. (He has since been threatened with a defamation suit for pointing this out, but that’s for another time.)

He raised the issue in parliament and the Prime Minister replied:

‘I think that there are lessons to be learned. As I have said, I think that it was right (of the previous government) to respond to what Libya did in terms of weapons of mass destruction, but I do not think that the way in which that response was handled was right. Too much credulity was shown, particularly over issues such as that of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man

who was convicted of the biggest mass murder in British history. Universities will also want to ask themselves, as they are doing, some pretty searching questions about what they did.’

Indeed. Ever since Britain’s rapprochement with Gaddafi in 2004, there has been an exchange of pens and pills for cash and oil. Few questions were asked of the Gaddafi regime because Whitehall and Downing Street were confident in its commitment to reform. At the government’s invitation, many British businesses, including universities, were involved.

Despite David Cameron’s protestations, the policy survived last year’s change of government. On the 27 May 2010, the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) arm of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Business Department issued a report, Doing Business With Libya, presumably as part of the coalition’s commerce-driven foreign policy. Owing to Libya’s current strife, the initiative has been closed, but residual traces of it remain. UKTI planned to hold a ‘UK Libya Educational Cooperation Seminar and Exhibition’ at Al Fateh University in Tripoli on the 8 - 9 March 2011. The accompanying UKTI briefing note illustrates how private health and education providers were urged to contact FCO officials to ease negotiation with the Libyan government. In introductory passages that are now blackly hilarious, UKTI depicts Libya as a sort of nascent Singapore:

‘Libya is embarking on a major development programme to expand, upgrade and modernise its education and training sector…There are longstanding educational links between the UK and Libya and the British approach to education is widely respected and perceived to be of a high standard. The UK/Libya relationship is strengthened by Libya's thirst for English, now the second language of Libya.’

And what about the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC), which is closely associated with the FCO, the Business Department, DfID, the British Council, members of the House of Lords and the Libyan Embassy in London? LBBC ‘devises and implements a programme of regular trade events’, offering its members ‘unique networking opportunities with Libya’s business and political elite.’ This year, LBBC was supposed to take a delegation to Tripoli between 11 and 13 April to discuss ‘investment opportunities in Libyan financial institutions’.

These organisations have been exposed by events. As one would expect, all of these seminars, jollies and networking parties have been cancelled, and their future is very uncertain. The proverbial penny may have finally dropped, but the credulity is still striking. Until Gaddafi turned on his own people, it was business as usual for Britain.