Press release

Press briefing: afternoon 14 March 2011

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

The Prime Minister's Spokesperson (PMS) answered questions on Libya.


The PMS told the assembled press that there would be a discussion at the UN Security Council later that afternoon on Libya. The discussion would not result in specific decisions but would cover a range of issues and was the next stage in the UN process. They would discuss sanctions, and whether the ones in place were working or whether they should be widened. The discussions would also look at the issue of mercenaries; proceeds from oil companies; and the issue of a no-fly zone. 

Put that the processes regarding Libya seemed to be moving at a faster pace and asked about the numbers of UK nationals remaining in the country, the PMS said that there were two important numbers: the number of UK nationals who were in Libya, and the number of UK nationals who were in Libya and actively in touch with us in order to leave. At the moment we thought that there were around 220 UK nationals in Libya, and the overwhelming majority of those were long-term residents. 

In terms of urgency we had been making the case that we needed to keep looking at the options. The Prime Minister had raised the issue of a no-fly zone 2 weeks ago and since then NATO had started to do work on planning, which was ongoing. There had been discussions on Friday at the EU council, as well as at the NATO meeting last week, and we had put in place the fastest ever UN Security Council resolution. There was more to do, but equally the international community had responded quickly in relative terms compared to what had happened in the past.

Put that the National Council in Libya had said that British intervention was more favourable than US or European intervention and asked why Britain hadn’t been speaking to the National Council, the PMS said that we had always made the point that the UK could not act alone. We had to act by moving forward with international colleagues, which was what we had been trying to do and was the reason for calling a special European Council meeting last week. It was also the reason why we had been drafting, with France, a resolution for the UN Security Council. We could not determine the pace and time frame on our own, we had to work with international colleagues.

Asked if the UK was out of step with France which was speaking to the National Council, the PMS repeated that the government was speaking to the Council.

Asked if the three criteria for a go ahead on the no-fly zone had been met, the PMS made clear that international support was needed, which was why discussions with international partners were taking place, including at the UN Security Council.

Responding to a question on whether the resolution with France was new and if it was meant to push the UN Security Council to some kind of decision, the PMS said that it was the same resolution that we had been talking about at the end of last week. The Prime Minister had been talking about broadening it in his statement today, with tougher measures against mercenaries.   

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that time was running out to establish a no-fly zone, the PMS repeated what the Prime Minister had said earlier in the House - that time was of the essence and there should be no let up in the pressure we put on the regime. He pointed to actions taken over the last couple of weeks and said that work needed to continue.

Asked if the new resolution would include anything on arming the opposition, the PMS said no. The discussion at the UN Security Council gave a clear indication as to what was being considered.

Questioned on whether the arms embargo applied to whole of Libya or just the Gaddafi regime, the PMS confirmed our view was that it applied to all of Libya.

Asked what was meant by tougher actions against mercenaries, the PMS said that this was what was being discussed at the UN Security Council.  

Put that there seemed to be international willingness for a no-fly zone but insufficient logistical support, the PMS said that the position taken by the Arab League over the weekend was significant. On logistics, the NATO work was underway on different options and was still ongoing.

Asked for the Prime Minister’s position regarding how quickly the UN was dealing with the situation in Libya, the PMS said that clearly these sorts of things took time. The Prime Minister thought that there should be a strong response from the international community, and that time was of the essence.

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that the only definition of a clear legal basis would be through the UN, the PMS repeated that the position was that we needed a clear legal basis.

Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on how he would work with Gaddafi if he never left, the PMS said that the position remained the same: Gaddafi should go.  

Asked if the Arab League was offering assistance regarding the no-fly zone, the PMS said that they had given their support to a no-fly zone but he wasn’t sure if they had been specific about resources.