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Conservative MPs line up to support Cameron on Libya - but he's probed about the arms embargo

by Paul Goodman

I list below every question asked by a Conservative MP yesterday in response to the Prime Minister's Commons statement about Libya.  For better or worse, I haven't cited his replies in every case, but his answers on regime change, the arms embargo and the International Criminal Court are of special interest, and are therefore quoted in full.

"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN.  I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?"

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I also commend my right hon. Friend on his decisive leadership? Why does he think Germany abstained on this resolution, and is Germany going to be interfering in preventing us from recognising the regime in Benghazi?

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his brilliant success at the United Nations, which is a vindication of the credibility of British foreign policy. Can he say more about the strategic objective, which, as Lord Dannatt and others have clearly stated, must be extremely clear? My right hon. Friend is committed to regime change, but are our allies, and in particular President Obama, committed to regime change?

The Prime Minister: The answer I give my hon. Friend is that almost every leader in the free world has said Gaddafi needs to go—that his regime is illegitimate and there is no future for Libya with him in charge—but we must be clear about the aim of what we are now involved in. The aim is to put in place the UN Security Council resolution, which is about protecting people’s lives and about the steps we are prepared to take to isolate the regime and give that country the chance of a better future. We must restrict ourselves to that aim in meeting this UN Security Council resolution. Obviously, we have a desire, which I and others have expressed, that Gaddafi has no future, but our aim here must be clear, and that is how we must drive this alliance forward.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Speaking as someone who has watched well-armed Bosnian Serb units smash through civilian populations, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether Security Council resolution 1973 allows us, under its provision on “all necessary measures”, to avoid the arms embargo and directly arm the people who are fighting against Gaddafi in Benghazi and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister: The first point I would make to my hon. Friend is how welcome it was that Bosnia was sitting on the Security Council and able to vote in favour of this resolution—for good historical reasons. The resolution helps to enforce the arms embargo, and our legal understanding is that that arms embargo applies to the whole of Libya. Paragraph 4 authorises member states

“to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”

in Libya, including Benghazi. That is very strong language, which allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians. It could not be clearer, and the legal advice is clear.

Let me make this point as well: while I think we should maintain the convention that the Government are entitled to have legal advice and to receive that legal advice privately, I also think it is right on these sorts of occasions that a summary of legal advice should be published so the House of Commons can see and debate it, and we will make sure that is done well in advance of the debate on Monday.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): One of the factors that caused Gaddafi to abandon his programme of weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s was that he knew he was on the verge of being indicted for war crimes by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, so he well understands both the power and the reach of international criminal law. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that the International Criminal Court makes it very clear that it is not only Gaddafi who stands at risk of being indicted by the ICC, but all those around him who are most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and we are making sure not only that Gaddafi and his immediate colleagues know they are in danger of going in front of the ICC, but that all those who choose to back the regime and carry out war crimes know that they are also in that danger. In addition, anyone who thinks of being a mercenary, of organising mercenaries or of organising arms shipments to that regime are covered in the same way. Communicating that message in all the ways that we can is vitally important work.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on his spectacularly successful leadership and the amazing turnaround that he has achieved? Will he tell the House a little more about the discussions he is having with members of the Arab League about the role that they may be able to play in supporting this resolution?

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Although today’s statement has understandably focused on military and diplomatic issues, a huge humanitarian crisis is already taking place, with a large number of Libyans having already fled and crossed the Mediterranean to Malta, Italy and other places. I was very encouraged by what the Prime Minister had to say about the role of the Department for International Development. Would he recognise that many of us in this House and countless millions of our constituents are equally proud of the very strong soft power that our nation is able to utilise and which we hope it will utilise in these difficult weeks and months ahead?

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Time, of course, remains of the essence, and those who are resisting may well need arms rapidly. Paragraph 4 of the resolution, which my right hon. Friend did not mention, says

“notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”,

and relates to the arms embargo. Does not that provide an avenue, through a committee of sanctions of the United Nations, to allow arms to be supplied, as sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 9 appears to suggest, to those resisting Gaddafi in Benghazi and thereabouts?

The Prime Minister: I always worry when my hon. Friend mentions the word “notwithstanding”; a small chill goes up my spine. I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear: there is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya. The legal advice that others have mentioned, and that we believe some other countries were interested in, suggesting that perhaps this applied only to the regime, is not in fact correct.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I would like to thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House so early to make this statement. He is clearly right to take very seriously the deployment of British troops. In that regard, could not the substantive motion that he has mentioned be debated later this evening or tomorrow morning, before the troops are actually deployed?

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his statement. Recent history has shown that commencing military action such as this is rather like entering a maze—it is easier to get in than to get out. Given that the Libyan rebels will always be at risk for as long as Colonel Gaddafi is still in power, will not our involvement therefore have to continue while his regime remains in place?

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I too commend the Prime Minister’s statement, and his courage and leadership. The Prime Minister will be aware of the significant position of Cyprus in the region, not least because of its sovereign bases. Does he anticipate the use of those bases in the implementation of the no-fly zone, and has that been agreed with the Government of Cyprus?

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I too congratulate the Prime Minister. Just yesterday, I voiced my concern that inertia could lead to our generation’s Rwanda. I am glad that he, along with others, has secured agreement to this resolution. I am sure that that was helped by the chilling words that Colonel Gaddafi issued in his radio interview. He has also mentioned attacks on civil aircraft. Has the Security Council been able to assess that threat? Is it just the empty hot air of a tyrant who knows that his days in power are numbered?

Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): May I thank the Prime Minister for his singular service over the past few weeks? Will he join me in paying tribute to those who will render an even greater service—the young men and women on whose skills, training and courage we will rely, as we have so often in our past?

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): May I add my voice to those of many other Members in congratulating the Prime Minister on what he has achieved, especially in the context of a coalition Government?  Can the Prime Minister give the House a sense of how long he expects the military engagement that we are about to embark on to last?

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I echo the congratulations from throughout the House to my right hon. Friends for the courage that they have demonstrated during the past week?  One difficulty that the last Administration had in relation to the war in Iraq was a general belief in the country that the war was not legal. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s assurances that the legal advice will be published in summary. In order that there can be confidence across the country in the legality of the action that the Government are taking, that advice needs to be as full as possible. It also needs to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be the case, and that we will see the advice as soon as possible?

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): May I thank the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for showing world leadership in an hour of need? The biggest risk to our national security would have been to do nothing at all. We cannot risk the emergence of another failed state at our southern tip exporting terror and human misery. Now that the UN has agreed on action, will the Prime Minister ensure that the action is swift, powerful and precise, and will he involve the broadest coalition possible, especially our Arab allies?

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One of the difficult things about no-fly zones is setting them up in the first place by taking out the air defence assets of the country involved, especially if they are deployed in areas of civilian population. What lessons have been learned from experience in Iraq and Bosnia about how best to do that?

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): The Prime Minister has informed the House that we are preparing to deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons to relevant air bases. Would it assist if HMS Ark Royal was also deployed in the Mediterranean with a Harrier strike force? Will he bolster our position by reconsidering the decision to decommission those forces before it is too late?

The Prime Minister: It is not necessary, to carry out the operations that we are considering, to have an aircraft carrier. Indeed, other counties have not moved aircraft carriers to the area and the reason is in an answer I gave earlier. In that part of the world in particular, several bases are available to provide the basing to carry out the required operations. It is extremely important to bear that in mind.

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on leading international opinion on the matter? I also welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments that we do not intervene unless in exceptional circumstances. That is an excellent contrast with the position on Iraq in 2003. This time, we have a positive legal opinion from the Attorney-General and the whole thing has been properly signed off by the United Nations."


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