Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 28 March 20110

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Libya and police action at protests

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Asked what work was happening at the Foreign Office in terns of post conflict stabilisation in Libya, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that work was taking place at both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development.  We also needed to discuss this issue with international partners including the UN.  Tomorrow’s summit gave us the opportunity to talk to a range of people.

Put that one of the criticisms in the Iraq Inquiry was that there weren’t enough forces on the ground soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had explained that the situation in Libya was different to that of Iraq.  We had a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) in place and the objectives of that were clear: to protect civilians.  The Prime Minister had also been clear all the way along that we needed to plan for the next stage and think about all possible scenarios.

Asked if any potential Libyan opposition leaders had been identified on diplomatic missions to the country, the PMS said that we wanted to support the Libyan people in making a transition to a more open and democratic form of government, but we had always been clear that it was not for us to identify the future government of Libya - it was a matter for the Libyan people, no one else.  We had been talking to a range of opposition figures in Libya and we would continue to do so.

Asked what the reaction was to criticism from the Russians concerning UNSCR 1973, the PMS said that we had been clear that, in all our actions, we were acting in line with UNSCR 1973, and would continue to do that.

Asked if the possibility of arming the rebels in Libya would be discussed at tomorrow’s summit, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered questions about this on a number of occasions and had made clear that everything we did needed to be consistent with UNSCR 1973. 

Asked for a reaction to calls for a ceasefire from Italy, the PMS said that we wanted to see a ceasefire, but it had to be a genuine ceasefire.  Just before the military action began President Obama set out certain conditions that we thought needed to be met to demonstrate a genuine ceasefire, which included; withdrawal of troops away from certain towns and cities; and making sure that water and electricity supplies were working.

Asked if the Prime Minister would agree with the NATO Secretary General that the aim of UNSCR 1973 was to protect all Libyan civilians, the PMS said that what the NATO Secretary General had said was a statement of fact.  UNSCR 1973 talked about protecting civilians and that meant all civilians.  People should however remember the context - there were peaceful protests going on in Libya and they were brutally put down by Colonel Qadhafi and his regime.

Asked if it was still the Prime Minister’s view that Qadhafi and those involved in the regime should be tried for war crimes, the PMS said that it was not just the Prime Minister’s view but the view of the international community as set out in UNSCR 1970.

Asked how it was possible for the Qadhafi regime to turn the water and electricity supplies back on in towns/cities they had been driven out of by the rebels, the PMS said that he didn’t have that level of operational knowledge to hand, but it was clear from conditions on the ground that people were still being attacked, which meant there wasn’t a genuine ceasefire.

Asked if there was a danger that a change of command in the military operation could weaken the political position, the PMS said that he would argue that the changes that been agreed strengthened the political position.  We had always wanted to see effective command and control arrangements through NATO, but also a system by which we could achieve sensible oversight reflecting the broad coalition of countries.

Police Action at Protests

Asked about the police reaction to the protests at the weekend and there were worries that similar scenes would be seen at the Royal wedding, the PMS said that what we had seen at the protest this weekend was a small number of people who had gone out intent on causing trouble.  The Prime Minister’s view was that those people needed to be dealt with and should feel the full force of the law.  We needed to learn lessons along the way and make sure we had the right arrangements in place.  That is what we would do in the case of the royal wedding. 

Asked what the Prime Minister would say to those who had protested at the weekend about Government cuts, the PMS said that we supported the right to peaceful protest whether in this country or any other country.  On the issue of cuts, we had set out very clearly our position through the Budget last year, the Spending Review and the most recent Budget last week.  This was not something we wanted to do, but it was something we had to do because of the size of the deficit.

Published 28 March 2011