Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Gardiner: Those made redundant will ask, 'What has this (Libyan intervention) got to do with Britain?'

With reporting of parliamentary debates often reduced to 'sketch writing' it is often hard to know exactly what our MPs have said without resorting to Hansard. For the record here is what Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North said in yesterday's debate on the Libya intervention:

I hope that, in a few weeks, the House will be able to rejoice that Gaddafi has gone. Few dictators have committed so many acts of psychopathic wickedness over such a long period of time. Many hon. Members will know of his atrocity at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he marched 1,270 prisoners into a compound, locked the gate and instructed his soldiers to open fire from the courtyard rooftops. The gunfire and grenades rained down for more than two hours until all 1,270 people were dead. But that was in the dying days of John Major's Government in June 1996, and Britain took no action.

I welcome resolution 1973. To take action now is right, but it would be disingenuous to claim that action was not possible without Britain's military participation, involving just three planes. The question is not whether action against Gaddafi is right but whether it is we who have the primary duty and responsibility to take it. It is the families of many of those slain 15 years ago at Abu Salim who began this revolution in Libya, inspired by others across the region who had dared to rise up and demand justice and dignity from their leaders. I praise their courage, but I recognise that this is a civil war in Libya. In that respect, it is categorically different from other conflicts involving ethnic cleansing and religious domination by one faith over another. This is neither Bosnia nor Rwanda. UN resolution 1973 has authorised international interference in a civil war in which there has been no genocide and no ethnic cleansing: no Halabja there.

The resolution purports to allow no more than the humanitarian protection of civilians, but all acknowledge that the Libyan population will not be secure from harm until the country is rid of Gaddafi. Coalition leaders, when asked whether Gaddafi was a legitimate target, have been equivocal in their response. In such circumstances, the rose of humanitarian protection begins to smell of regime change, and by that name it is not so sweet. This became apparent to Amr Moussa over the weekend when he said:
"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians".
Perhaps the Arab League was too optimistic, because that is precisely what is likely to happen, if not by British and coalition missiles then by the rebels. It is naive to think that we can stop one side fighting in a civil war and not expect the other to take advantage. In a civil war, the tragedy is precisely that civilians are killed, if not by one side, then by the other. I do not believe that the international coalition will be even-handed in stopping rebel forces advancing in the same way.

The Prime Minister said in his statement on Friday that if we will the ends, we must also will the means. To will the means, however, does not entail the proposition that we must be the means. Many people in the UK are asking, "Why does Britain always have to get involved?" In two days, we will hear the Budget and the Chancellor will explain to the country why it is necessary to cut thousands of jobs to tackle the deficit. Those men and women who have been made redundant will no doubt sympathise with the Libyan people, but they will ask, "What has this got to do with Britain?" North Africa is not on our borders. It is not in our direct sphere of influence. Libya poses no direct threat to the UK, and we have no historical responsibility as the former colonial power, so why are we spending millions of pounds on cruise missiles, and endangering the lives of British soldiers to implement the resolution. It is ironic that many people asking these questions will be among the 17,000 military personnel who were judged to be surplus to requirements in last October's defence review, when the Government cut £4 billion from the defence budget.

There is no contradiction in welcoming the enabling authority given by UN resolution 1973, which allows those who have a direct interest or who have historical responsibilities as the former colonial power to act in Libya and, at the same time, to insist that we have no such direct interest or responsibility. Today, we are debating this after the event-we have taken that responsibility before a vote in the House, yet no one in government has sought to explain the policy of the rebels, on whose side we now find ourselves. We know that they are against Gaddafi, and that is a good start, but we certainly have no knowledge that they intend to replace him with an open, tolerant, liberal democracy. The whole of north Africa and the middle east are changing more rapidly than at any time since Suez. Shi'a minorities in Yemen and Bahrain have been shot or silenced by an invasion from Saudi Arabia. Iran is known to be eager to get involved. Egypt and Tunisia have effected home-grown revolutions and even Syria is experiencing serious internal tension.

In that extraordinary context, the Government have judged it right and in Britain's interest to involve our forces in military action. I pray that in a week's time Gaddafi is gone, and I pay tribute to the valour of our armed forces, but I believe that the Government were wrong to ask this-

The speaker interrupted at this point to enable another MP to speak.

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