Put that the Prime Minister had said at PMQs today that it could be possible to arm the rebels in Libya and that this appeared to be a change of mind given what the Prime Minister had previously said on the arms embargo, the Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister had not changed his mind. We had been clear all along that the arms embargo related to the whole of Libya. There had also been a discussion about the issue of arming rebels, and the Prime Minister had been clear on this also. At PMQs today the Prime Minister said that, ‘the legal position was clear that an arms embargo applied to the whole territory of Libya. At the same time the resolution allowed all necessary measures to protect civilian populated areas. In our view this would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. As I told the House before, we did not rule it out; we had not taken the decision to do so’.
Asked if there was concern that the same thing would happen as happened in Afghanistan if the rebels were armed, the PMS said that she would not get into historical comparisons of two very different situations.
Asked if the Prime Minister was confident that the arms embargo was being enforced, the PMS said yes, NATO was leading on this.
Asked if there had been any evidence of al-Qaeda members infiltrating Libya, the PMS referred journalists to what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday: ‘one of the reasons it was necessary for the European Union to make a bold, ambitious and historic offer to the nations in this region was to try and act as a magnet for this kind of positive change. Given that there was a danger that there could be new opportunities for terrorism or extremism, we would not be complacent. What we were doing to protect civilians and to encourage a political process in Libya through which Libyans could choose their future governments was the right way to combat those dangers of terrorism and extremism.’
The PMS also pointed out that members of the opposition in Libya had yesterday published their vision documents, which did not suggest any extremist agenda but embraced a more open, plural and democratic Libya.
Asked why the Foreign Secretary had expelled diplomats from the Libyan Embassy in London today, the PMS referred to the Foreign Secretary’s statement today when he said that if the five diplomats remained in the UK they could pose a threat to our security. In our view the diplomats in question had a very strong allegiance to the Qadhafi regime. We knew that they had been putting pressure on the Libyan opposition and student groups in the UK, and furthermore the expulsions sent a very strong political message about the legitimacy of the Qadhafi regime.
Asked how the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary knew that there had been no civilian casualties in Libya as a result of the no-fly zone, the PMS said that the principles behind us taking action in the way we did was to protect civilians. Very detailed planning went into the missions, and within our knowledge there had been no civilian casualties.
Asked if the Prime Minister had been correct today when he said at PMQs that if a university charged £9,000 it was not possible for that to be changed by anyone apart from the university itself, the PMS said that what the Prime Minister had said was correct: there was a process in place, universities’ access plans had to be approved by the Director for Fair Access before those fees could be charged.