Oral statement to Parliament

PM statement to the House on Libya

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

Prime Minister David Cameron has secured comprehensive support from MPs for the military intervention in Libya.

The Rt Hon David Cameron

Read the statement:

Introduction - updating the House

Mr Speaker, I beg to move the motion standing on the order paper in my name and those of my Rt Hon Friends.

On Saturday British forces went into action over Libya.

The first British cruise missiles were fired from HMS Triumph at 7pm.

Subsequently RAF Tornados were deployed in several missions.

This marked the beginning of our involvement in an international operation…

….working with the US and others at the request of Arab nations…

…acting to enforce the will of the United Nations.

In line with UN Resolution 1973, there were two aims to these strikes.

The first was to suppress the Libyan air defences and make possible the safe enforcement of the No Fly Zone.

The second was to protect civilians from attack by the Gaddafi regime.

Good progress has been made.

I can announce to the House today that Coalition forces have largely neutralised Libyan air defences and that as a result a No Fly Zone has effectively been put in place over Libya.

It is also clear that Coalition forces have helped avert a bloody massacre in Benghazi. They did so just in the nick of time.

Today I can confirm that RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to a military base in southern Italy, within 25 minutes flying time from the Libyan coast.

…and two typhoons will be helping patrol the No Fly Zone this afternoon.

Mr Speaker, I’m sure the whole House will join with me in paying tribute to our service men and women who are performing with their usual professionalism and courage.

Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones at this time as they risk their lives to help save the lives of others.

Mr Speaker, let me be clear why these actions have been taken.

On Friday evening President Obama, President Sarkozy and I spelt out the non-negotiable conditions which Colonel Gaddafi had to meet, under the requirements of international law set out by UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

First, we said that a cease-fire had to be implemented immediately and that all attacks against civilians must stop.

Second, we said that Gaddafi had to stop his troops advancing on Benghazi.

Third, we said that Gaddafi had to pull his forces back from Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zawiyah…

…establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas…

…and allow humanitarian assistance to reach the people of Libya.

The removal of Gaddafi’s forces from these towns will safeguard civilians, enable the aid agencies to operate there safely and guarantee the humanitarian assistance the UN Resolution demands.

So, let me be clear Mr Speaker, the Government’s view is that these non-negotiable conditions are entirely consistent with implementing the UN Resolution.

Mr Speaker, Gaddafi responded to the United Nations Resolution by declaring a ceasefire.

But straightaway it was clear that he was breaking that promise.

He continued to push his tanks towards Benghazi as quickly as possible, and to escalate his actions against Misurata.

On Saturday alone, there were reports of dozens of people killed in Benghazi, and dozens more in Misurata.

Gaddafi lied to the international community.

He continued to brutalise his own people.

He was in flagrant breach of the UN Resolution.

It was necessary, legal, and right that he should be stopped - and that we should stop him.

Necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him using military violence against his own people.

Legal because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council.

And right because I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people. And the Arab League and many others agree.

In the Summit in Paris on Saturday, the Secretary General of the Arab League and representatives of Arab States…

…including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco…

…asserted their support for - and I quote - “all necessary action, including military, consistent with UNSCR 1973, to ensure compliance with all its requirements.”

At the meeting the Iraqi foreign minister made clear that the no fly zone over Northern Iraq had saved thousands of Kurdish lives, possibly even his own.

In terms of active participation, the Qataris are supplying four jets from their Royal Air Force to help enforce the No Fly Zone.

And other Arab nations are considering their participation.

Mr Speaker, I spoke to the Secretary General of the Arab League this morning, who confirmed his clear support for all aspects of the UN Resolution and we agreed it must be implemented.

Alongside America, France and Britain, a significant number of other countries have now pledged their active support for these operations.

Spain has confirmed its active participation, committing 4 air defence fighters, a tanker aircraft, a surveillance aircraft, an F-100 frigate and a submarine.

Canada has also committed 6 air defence fighters and two naval vessels.

Norway and Denmark have committed a total of 10 air defence fighters.

Belgium has also offered air defence fighters.

Italy has opened important bases in close reach of the Libyan coast, one of which we are using now.

Greece has excellent facilities and bases only minutes flying time from Benghazi.

Mr Speaker, the message in Paris was loud and clear.

The international community had heeded the call of the Arab nations.

Together we assured the Libyan people of our “determination to be at their side to help them realise their aspirations and build their future and institutions within a democratic framework.”

How we got here

Mr Speaker, it is important to remember how all this started.

Gaddafi’s response to his people taking to the streets in peaceful protest was utterly brutal. He used the full might of his armed forces as well as mercenaries against them.

That’s why we pushed for UN Security Council Resolution 1970.

This condemned the Gaddafi regime, imposed a travel ban and assets freeze, and brought in the International Criminal Court.

At the same time we said contingency planning should also be carried out for different scenarios including involving military assets and in particular plans for a no fly zone.

Throughout, we were clear that three tests would need to be met in order to justify military action.

Demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal basis.

These were met.

Demonstrable need because Gaddafi had so flagrantly ignored the demands of two UN Security Council Resolutions to end the violence against his people.

Regional support - because it was the people of Libya who first called for protection from attack. And because they were supported in that call by the Gulf Co-operation Council, the Arab League and the three African members of the Security Council.

And legal because of the clear mandate provided by the UN Security Council Resolution.

Mr Speaker, ahead of today’s debate the government has placed in the Library of the House a note on the legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets.

It makes clear that the Attorney General has been consulted and that the Government is satisfied there is a - and I quote - “clear and unequivocal legal basis” for deployment of UK forces and military assets to achieve the resolution’s objectives.

The next phase of the operation will continue our focus on maintaining the no fly zone and protecting the civilian population.

We are in no doubt that Colonel Gaddafi is still arranging his forces to inflict further attacks on the civilian population - notably in Misurata - and we are determined to stop him.

The message to those in Gaddafi’s forces is clear. We will not tolerate attacks on civilians and those who support such attacks will be brought to account for their crimes.

Now is the time for those involved in the Gaddafi regime to desert him. To put down their arms, walk away from their tanks and stop obeying orders from someone who has brutalised his own people.

Why could we not have waited longer before using force?

Mr Speaker, let me turn to the amendment proposed by the Honorable Members for Islington North and for Hayes and Harlington.

There is much in here that I can welcome.

First, no military actions are without risk, but I can assure the House that we will of course do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties.

Indeed, last night our RAF pilots aborted their mission when they determined that there were civilians in close proximity to the identified military targets.

Mr Speaker, this is a clear example of the lengths we will go to in trying to minimise the risk of civilian casualties.

Second, I also agree with the Honorable Members about the need to avoid the use of depleted uranium and cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions.

Third, I welcome their support for those struggling for democracy and freedom in the region.

And fourth, I agree wholeheartedly this is no time to step back from determination to advance the Middle East Peace Process. I often make this point and am happy to do so again.

But Mr Speaker, I do have to take issue with two crucial points in the Amendment.

The first is the suggestion that there was time to have further consultations before undertaking military action.

The United Nations gave Gaddafi an ultimatum and he completely ignored it.

To those who say we should wait and see, I would say we have waited and we’ve seen more than enough.

The House is aware that the Cabinet met and agreed our approach on Friday.

On Saturday morning, as I was travelling to the Paris Summit, the Deputy Prime Minister Chaired COBR.

He was presented with the final analysis of the state of play on the ground in Libya.

The advice was very clear.

We were in a race against time to avoid the slaughter of civilians in Benghazi.

All of us would have hoped to avoid the use of force.

And this could have been achieved if Gaddafi had complied immediately and fully with the requirements of the resolution.

But the fact is that he did not.

And that left us with a choice.

Either to use force, strictly in line with the terms of the Resolution.

Or to back down and send a message to Gaddafi that he could continue brutalising his people.

Remember this is the man who told the world he would show the people of Benghazi no mercy.

I am convinced that to act, with others, was the right decision.

To do otherwise would have completely undermined the United Nations risking it becoming just another League of Nations.

That is something I would hope this whole House would never wish to see.

My second objection to the Amendment is that it says we should “acknowledge” rather than “support” UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

I think that is profoundly wrong.

This is an important resolution which the UK helped bring about - and I believe this House should welcome it.

Has the use of force been reasonable?

Mr Speaker, let me turn to other questions that have been raised in recent days.

First, has the use of force been reasonable?

We have undertaken the use of force in two ways

The first has been the suppression of Libyan air defences. This was absolutely essential to safeguard the security of our pilots and allied pilots in enforcing the no fly zone.

As Prime Minister I would not have been prepared to sanction our participation in enforcing the no fly zone without doing everything possible to reduce the risk to our service men and women beforehand.

The second area of activity has been action designed explicitly to safeguard civilian populations under attack.

As the Resolution explicitly authorises, it was quite clear that the population of Benghazi was under heavy attack, that civilians were being killed in significant numbers, and that an exodus from the town had begun.

So there was an urgent need to take action to stop the slaughter.

In short, I am absolutely satisfied that all the military actions that the coalition has undertaken are fully within the authorisation of the United Nations Resolution.

Let me put the issue of targets beyond doubt.

Targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution.

We therefore choose our targets to stop attacks on civilians and to implement the No Fly Zone.

We should not give a running commentary on targeting.

I don’t propose to say any more on this subject than that.

How is this in our national interest?

Mr Speaker, there are some who question whether Britain really needs to get involved at all.

Some people have argued that we should leave it to others because there isn’t sufficient British national interest at stake.

I believe that argument is misplaced.

If Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe’s border, a source of instability, exporting terror beyond her borders.

A state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could seek to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe.

We must also remember that Gaddafi is a dictator who has a track record of violence and support for terrorism against our country.

The people of Lockerbie, know what he is capable of.

I am clear: taking action in Libya, together with our international partners, is in our national interest.

Is this another Iraq?

I know a feature of this debate will be Honorable Members asking how do we make sure this isn’t going to be another Iraq?

My answer is very clear.

The UN resolution - which we, with the Lebanese, the US and French helped draft - makes it quite clear there will be no foreign occupation of Libya.

The Resolution both authorises and sets the limits of our action.

Specifically it excludes an occupation force of any form, on any part of Libyan territory.

But the differences with Iraq go deeper.

It is not just that this time, the action has the full and unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations….

….nor is it just that this time it is backed by Arab countries, and by a broad international coalition…

The point is this.

There are millions in the Arab world who want to know that the UN, the US, the UK, the French, the international community …. care about their suffering and their oppression.

The Arab world has asked us to act with them to stop the slaughter.

We must answer that call.

Will we be shouldering an unfair burden?

Next, Mr Speaker, there are those who accept Britain should play its part, but worry that Britain might shoulder an unfair burden.

I want to assure the House that will not be the case.

The UN resolution confers a duty on Britain, along with the other permanent members of the Security Council who supported it, to play our part in implementing it.

Let me explain how the Coalition will work.

It’s operating under US command with the intention that this will transfer to NATO.

This will mean that all the NATO allies would be able to contribute - and that the mission would benefit from NATO’s command and control operations.

With the fourth largest defence budget in the world, Britain has the means to play its part.

But given that British troops are currently engaged in Afghanistan, that part must be in line with our resources.

And so it will be.

No resources have been diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to carry out the enforcement of Resolution 1973.

I have the assurance of the Chief of the Defence Staff that both operations can take place concurrently.

The impact of what we are doing in Libya will not affect our mission in Afghanistan.

And crucially, we will work alongside Arab countries in the region, who themselves called for this action in the first place.

In other words, the British people should know that we are doing our fair share - no more, no less.

Are the risks too great?

Next there are those who ask if the risks will outweigh the benefits?

Plainly, there is no action without risk.

But alongside the risks of action, we have to weigh the risks of inaction.

The sight of the international community condemning violence but doing nothing to stop it.

The effect across North Africa and the Middle East if Gaddafi succeeds in brutalising his own people.

The humanitarian consequences for the city of Benghazi and beyond.

The consequences for Europe of a failed pariah state on its southern border.

All of these are simply too great to ignore.

So yes, Mr Speaker, there are dangers and difficulties. And there will always be unforeseen consequences of inaction.

But it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which is a further slaughter of civilians and this dictator completely flouting the United Nations and its will.

That is why the Security Council has judged it right to act, and why Britain and others have supported it.

Are we stirring up trouble?

Finally there are some who say we are just stirring up trouble for the future.

These people say that Arabs and Muslims can’t do democracy and that more freedoms in these countries will simply lead to extremism and intolerance.

To me, this argument is not only deeply condescending and prejudiced, it is utterly wrong and has been shown to be wrong.

Let’s remember that people made this argument about Egypt only a short month ago.

They said that the departure of Mubarak would lead to a dangerous vacuum in which extremists would flourish.

Of course, I deplore the attack on Mohamed El-Baradei at a polling station. But the overwhelming picture from Saturday was of millions of people queuing up patiently and proudly to exercise their democratic rights, many for the first time.

Inevitably information about the Libyan opposition is not complete. But the evidence suggests that they are predominantly ordinary Libyans from all walks of life who want freedom, justice and democracy; the things we take for granted.

Next steps

Mr Speaker, people will be rightly concerned that we have a clear plan for what happens next in Libya…

…both in humanitarian terms, and also politically and diplomatically following the successful conclusion of the No Fly Zone.

On humanitarian issues, the UK was one of the first to respond to the humanitarian needs arising from Gaddafi’s actions.

We provided tents and blankets from our stores in Dubai for the thousands of migrant workers crossing the borders to escape the regime’s violence.

We were the first country to provide flights to enable 12,000 migrant workers to return to their homes.

This timely assistance prevented what was a logistical emergency becoming a humanitarian crisis.

The Development Secretary announced last week that we will now support the International Committee of the Red Cross to deploy three medical teams.

These will help provide medical assistance to 3,000 people affected by the fighting and food and essential items for 100,000 of the most vulnerable.

From the beginning we urged the United Nations to lead international pressure for unfettered humanitarian access within Libya.

We are now planning for new humanitarian needs that may emerge as a result of the conflict.

This includes ensuring that the international system, led by the UN, is ready to respond rapidly and effectively when they can get access.

Security Council Resolution 1973 is about protecting the citizens of Libya who bravely rose up against the oppression of Gaddafi’s regime.

It is important that in supporting the implementation of the resolution the international system plans now for stabilising the peace that will follow.

This could include rapidly restoring damaged infrastructure, keeping important services such as health and education running, reforming the security sector and ensuring an open and transparent political process to elections.

All this will take time and will require an internationally led effort. Britain will play its part in this.

In terms of what happens politically and diplomatically, what is crucial is that the future of Libya is for the people of Libya to decide, aided by the international community.

The Libyan opposition have made it clear that they do not want to see a division of the country, and neither do we.

They have also expressed a clear and overwhelming wish for Gaddafi to go.

And we agree with that too.

The UN resolution is limited in its scope. It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means.

But we will continue to implement a wide range of tough sanctions designed to put pressure on the regime towards that end.

There is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in power.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker, Gaddafi has had every conceivable opportunity to stop massacring his own people.

The time for red lines, threats, last chances is over.

Tough action is needed now to ensure that people in Libya can lead their lives without fear and access the basic needs of life.

That is what the Security Council requires.

That is what we are seeking to deliver.

There are rightly those who ask how and where this will end.

Of course, there are difficulties and dangers ahead

But already we know, beyond any doubt, that we have succeeded in chasing Gaddafi’s planes out of the sky.

We have saved the lives of many Libyans.

And we have helped to prevent the destruction of a great and historic city.

Of course, no-one can be certain of what the future can hold, but as we stand here today the people of Libya have a much better chance of determining their destiny.

And in taking this action we should be proud that we are not only acting in British interests but also being true to our values as a nation.

And I commend this motion to the House.

Published 21 March 2011