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Tory MPs divided on No Fly Zone during Hague statement on Libya

Tim Montgomerie

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The Foreign Secretary has just addressed the Commons, updating MPs on the situation in Libya.

  • Mr Hague noted that there had been violence against civilians: "The Qadhafi regime is launching military counter-attacks against opposition forces. There has been intense fighting in the East and centre of the country along the coastal strip between the opposition-held Ras Lanuf and the Qadhafi stronghold of Sirte. There are credible reports of the use of helicopter gunships against civilians by government forces, and unconfirmed reports of a helicopter and jet shot down over Ras Lanuf."
  • He repeated calls for Gaddafi to go: "Mr Speaker, our position is that Colonel Qadhafi must put an immediate stop to the use of armed force against civilians and hand over power without delay, to a government which recognises the aspirations of the Libyan people and is more representative and accountable."
  • The Foreign Secretary confirmed he authorised the Special Forces operation that went wrong over the weekend: "Last week I authorised the despatch of a small British diplomatic team to Eastern Libya, in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection, to build on these initial contacts and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team. They were withdrawn yesterday after a serious misunderstanding about their role leading to their temporary detention. This situation was resolved and they were able to meet Council President Mr Abdul-Jalil. However it was clearly better for this team to be withdrawn. We intend to send further diplomats to Eastern Libya in due course."
  • 600 British nationals have been evacuated from Libya but 180 are still there, including a number of journalists.
  • Mr Hague also announced that he would be "upgrading the status of the Palestinian Delegation to London to the level of a Mission."

The execution of the SAS operation was described as "botched" by Labour's Douglas Alexander but more interestingly by Ming Campbell as "ill-conceived, poorly planned and badly executed".

Sir Malcolm Rifkind asked the Foreign Secretary to rule out a no fly zone unless the UN approved one. Mr Hague didn't reply directly, saying only that it must be sought by representatives of the Libyan people, enjoy wider regional backing and be legal.

From the backbenches Tory divisions on foreign intervention were laid bare. Bernard Jenkin encouraged Mr Hague to continue to lead efforts to secure a No Fly Zone and Colonel Bob Stewart urged Mr Hague to ensure any Zone was properly enforced. On the other side of the fence Rory Stewart urged exhaustion of non-military interventions, John Redwood warned of civilian casualties if a NFZ was introduced and Edward Leigh said there was no public appetite for a third intervention in a Muslim country after Iraq and Afghanistan.


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